This is a guest post by Rob Mark from Jetwhine.com in Chicago. We’ve decided to begin a little cross-posting here at SimpliFlying and at Jetwhine.
A commercial pilot and journalist, Rob has been writing Jetwhine as the blog of “aviation buzz and bold opinion,” for two and a half years. His posts are never dull because you never need to try to figure out where he and his co-writer Scott Spangler stand on an issue. Enjoy.
For as long as I can remember, Southwest Airlines, now the largest U.S. domestic airline, created in the 1970s by Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, has been the low-cost airline others most want to emulate. The need to copy isn’t just about money, although Southwest has a profit history better than any other airline in the world. Most Southwest look-a-likes have, in fact, been dismal failures.
Southwest has a record of solid labor relations – despite last week’s pilot contract rejection – and a culture of customer fun in an industry that most others have never been able to duplicate. Southwest simply delivers a solid, consistent service at a fair price that keeps passengers coming back. To me, an airline that actually still responds in writing to a customer complaint says quite a bit.
The airline’s no hidden fees policy has also carried it quite a long way at a time when competitors have tried charging for everything short of breathing space. True, Southwest did appear to break with tradition last week when it announced some new fees, but charging for the work related to managing unaccompanied minors as well as pets carried in the cabin is something the average man or woman on the street will most likely never notice.
On to Ireland
When Ryanair opened for business in 1985, many analysts thought the Dublin-based carrier could evolve into a European airline modeled on the success of Southwest. Having had the opportunity to fly Ryanair a few times, I can tell you that the Southwest folks probably have very little to worry about on that front, something my first flight on the European airline confirmed. At Southwest, boarding is by group to bring some sort of order to the process of putting folks in their seats. In fact, we spoke to Southwest’s Doug Lawson about just that topic last year.
When boarding at Ryanair, they essentially open the terminal doors, aim passengers at the airplane and yell “go.” It’s every man, woman and child for themselves to find a good seat using both the front and rear doors. There was nothing even remotely funny about watching people run like crazed dogs for the Boeing while I tried to make sure they didn’t mow down my family in the process. To me, Ryanair’s business model is not so much about low cost as it is about being cheap. Even ads for the airline tout “cheap.” And when a company is cheap, consumers should beware.
In March, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary made news by suggesting pay toilets might be a good idea aboard his airplanes where flights are often no more than an hour per leg. In the U.S., we laughed, especially when O’Leary’s press officer confirmed that the CEO often makes this stuff up as he goes. Then last week O’Leary confirmed he’s in talks with Boeing to find a workable pay toilet solution, one that will help Ryanair remove two of the three lavs on the Boeing 737 to make room for more seats.
Making passengers pay to use a toilet is sure to become one of the largest revenue losers in the history of the airline business. But it also opens the door to a discussion about how Ryanair is fast become an airline at which the wheels have finally begun to come off the wagon. The company has clearly crossed the line between what passengers will accept and what they will not. O’Leary just doesn’t seem to realize it because he’s in business to make money, not run an airline.
I always thought no one could be less customer-focused than United Airlines. Clearly I was wrong. The only thing that really worries me is that some airline bean counter here in the states might think Ryanair is on to something. They are of course. It’s just not anything good for airline passengers. And if you do fly Ryanair in the future, you just might want to bring along a can of Lysol to kill the germs. It’s going to get messy over there.