Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Budget Airlines versus "Quality" Airlines

I started writing this blog post while waiting for a flight to Brussels at Manchester Airport. Reflecting on our latest experiences with SWISS and Singapore Airlines I am now looking forward to experiencing the budget air travel experience again with Ryanair.

Ryanair is very much WYPIWYG, "What You Pay Is What You Get". I have paid £12 for this return flight (all in) and since I don't expect anything service-wise it will be difficult to be disappointed. This is in stark comparison with flying SWISS to Venice and being seriously delayed and rerouted via Amsterdam (instead of Zurich) on our way back. Singapore Airlines equally let us down by canceling some of their flights between Manchester and Singapore (after we had booked) cutting short our long haul holiday by a day. Did any of them bother apologising or compensating us in any way? Nope!

The SWISS staff at Venice airport were actually bordering on being rude with a "can't be bothered attitude". We spent an extra 3 hours at the airport and SWISS didn't even offer us a drinks voucher. We had already checked in and made our way through security when the re-routing was announced to us. This meant we had to go back to a Luggage Reclaim counter, wait for our luggage, then go to the SWISS ticketing desk, get new tickets with KLM, check in again, and go through security again.
Being re-routed via Amsterdam also meant we ended up back in Manchester at a different Terminal, having to drag our luggage back to the Terminal car park where we had left our car. We initially chose to fly SWISS instead of Ryanair for convenience... well that wasn't exactly money well spent in this case.

For our yearly South-East Asia holiday we opted to fly Singapore Airlines and pay a little extra, again for convenience. A direct flight from Manchester to Singapore, to start off our holidays, sounded like a good plan but when Singapore Airlines decided to cut short our holiday by one day the aspect of convenience was completely out of the window. Since we had already booked some flights in Malaysia, we now find ourselves in a situation where we need to get back from a secluded beach on a remote island straight to Manchester ... all in one looooong trip, or we need to book an extra flight from Kota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur and leave our island destination one day earlier.
[next paragraph added after long-haul holiday] We finally opted for the latter and booked an earlier flight back to KL. I have been back for a week now and while I used to think Singapore Airlines was top-notch, I'm now not that sure. With Singapore Airlines canceling some of its weekly flights between Manchester and Singapore, the flights are jam-packed. This means you don't get to spread out over an eventual extra seat and also means that staff are pretty busy. The little pouch you receive for travel comfort is pretty empty in comparison with, for example, flying Emirates. Also, you don't get the "Do Not Disturb" stickers which are so handy when trying to sleep and food is being served. On our inbound flight, it was extremely difficult to get a drink. Twice, I asked for a Rum & Coke (was still in holiday mode I must admit!) and the first time I was asked to wait a little because drinks were going to be served soon. On the second occasion, I was again asked to wait because food was about to get served. I finally got my second drink 30 minutes after asking for it. Now, if I would have been drinking before boarding the flight I could understand if the cabin staff were reluctant to hurry to get me a drink ... but I was super-sober (water and coffee all day) and just wanted a nightcap really, trying to extend the holiday feel a little. I used to look forward to flying Singapore Airlines, but I'm not anymore unfortunately. It is good, but not better.

Now, back to budget airlines. When flying to European destinations, they very often are the fastest way to get to your destination (no capital city stop-overs). Budget airlines are obviously annoying with all the extras they charge for such as hold luggage, airport check-in, paying online, etc but when a flight is cheaper than the taxi ride to your hotel or the airport parking, who can blame them? The concept of paying for what you use is actually quite good (in principle) and the budget airlines need to create additional revenue streams somehow.

Impressions of Ryanair (even though not the first time I'm flying with them):

The Negatives:
The planes look quite recent but the inside is really ugly. Someone in marketing must have thought it would be a good idea to use the high visibility yellow of Ryanair's logo to decorate the inside of the planes. Well, it isn't! It would look much better to invert the yellow and blue on the planes.
Everything inside the plane is made for efficiency and easy cleaning ... fair enough.
I can't lean my seat back at all. However, not too bad for a short flight.
The in-flight menu offers food and drinks at overinflated prices. I just read in their in-flight magazine about a wonderful wine bar in Monaco where you can get a glass of wine for €4.50, while Ryanair charges €5.95 for its wine. Now, it's not the price itself that "doesn't work", it's the setting. Blue and Yellow plastic seats don't really trigger a luxury feeling that would justify spending a bit more. I don't mind paying over the odds if I get something in return, such as an exclusive setting, quality, amazing views, etc. It's about value for money really. Ryanair should try lowering its food and drinks prices (for a test period) and evaluate the bottom-line profit.
I am landing in Charleroi, which Ryanair calls Brussels South. Considering how small Belgium is, it's the equivalent of flying to Manchester for "London North" ;-)

The Positives:
The plane took off only 5 minutes later than planned and we will be landing prior to the scheduled arrival time (landed 20 minutes early actually).
Nothing is amazing ... but then again, everything is quite efficient.
Ryanair also has a good reputation for losing luggage much less often than other airlines. When flying with Ryanair I tend to go for cabin luggage only. Saves loads of money and Ryanair allows up to 10kg cabin luggage anyhow (55x40x20cm).
I can't find many more positives but the few positives often outweigh the negatives.

Flying Ryanair is like taking the bus, but with a check-in. No frills, but it's cheap, efficient and will do just fine in many cases or should I say when you don't have many cases, because once you start checking in luggage the additional costs tend to add up and make other budget and non-budget airlines seem more appealing.
Ryanair should focus some more efforts on branding and create a perception that says something different from just "cheap". It's in the details. Flight attendants uniforms, attitudes and overall communication could look less messy and a little trendier. It doesn't need to look cheap in order to be cheap! Ryanair could do with a bit of a branding make-over because in the end some of the other benefits such as flights who actually depart and land as scheduled; and luggage that also gets to the destination (shame on BA for its Terminal 5 chaos) could be appealing by themselves. As long as the rest of the experience is no major turn-off, people might even be willing to put up with the extra shuttle to actually get to the destination as long as it doesn't make the customers feel like cattle. Maybe in next year's season of The Apprentice, Sir Alan Sugar should come up with a task whereby the candidates need to create their own branded airline. If they do as good a job with airlines as with chocolates, Michael O'Leary should be watching closely just to "funk" things up a little.

Interesting Link:

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