For the last couple of days, I’ve been at the Aviation Outlook Middle East, as a keynote speaker (check out my presentation here). You’d expect that the hottest topic might be the recession, or the threat/opportunity for Low Cost Carriers in the Middle East (see my interview on that here). But ironically, during the panel discussions, during the networking breaks and even during cocktails, the hottest topic for discussion was Ryanair charging for the use of toilets in-flight!
Will charging for the loo work for the brand?
From the amount of buzz just one statement from Michael O’Leary has generated, it looks like the move has already worked for Ryanair. Afterall, no PR is bad PR! And the Ryanair CEO is probably one of the best when it comes to getting free PR anyway, just like Richard Branson. The two of them are icons for their respecive brands, like Steve Jobs is for Apple, and it adds an X-Factor to the brand (read more in my whitepaper) that most other airlines cannot compete with.
So, even though the official press release from Ryanair did not commit to such an initiative, the PR generated by that one statement probably doubled the hits on Ryanair’s website, which is a major source of revenue for the airline.
Extra charges, in-sync with Ryanair’s brand positioning
Ryanair has a very clear and distinct brand positioning – that of the lowest seat price provider. They promise to give the traveler the cheapest seat possible (a friend bought a ticket from London – Barcelona for $5 last week!). And everything else is charged for. And Ryanair has made this positioning clear to its customers. So people either love Ryanair, or hate it. And Ryanair cares about those of love the airline, and caters to their needs.
Now, if these people are already used to paying additional for check-in bags, credit card payments and other add-ons, then this is just another in the list. It’s the right strategy for the right customer segment. Now, this will not work on another airline, like United, which has advertisements showing off its latest First Class, and treats its Economy passengers very differently. But Ryanair might be able to pull it off.
“The Good, the Bad and the Irrelevant” airlines
I was listening to Dr Nawal Taneja, an aviation guru from Ohio University, and he mentioned an important point. He said that at the end of the recession, there will be the Good airlines that emerge the strongest, the bad ones, which will disappear and a large majority of “irrelevant” ones, which will just exist for the sake of it.
I believe that Ryanair will not be in the last category. They’ve got a distinct brand positioing and their actions reflect that distinctiveness in almost everything that they do. And as long as their means of earning ancillary revenues are in-sync with the brand, they’ll succeed.
What do you think? Is this a good move by Ryanair? Will charging for toilets chase away current customers? Will it prevent new ones from trying the airlines? Will this be detrimental to the brand? Let’s discuss.