Ryanair has announced that it is slashing its airport check-in fee from £70 per person to £45 each. This is payable by anyone who forgets to print off their boarding cards before travelling to the airport, and is widely loathed for being entirely out of proportion to what it actually costs the firm to print them. It has always been hated by passengers, so why has Ryanair decided to cut the fee now?
It was part of a number of cuts, which also saw the missed departure fee fall from £110 to £100, and the cost of checking in skis fall from £50 to £40, golf clubs from £50 to £30 and small sports bags from £50 to £30.
It's worth pointing out that cutting the check-in fee is not ushering in a new world order. You will still have to pay £45 per person for ground staff to press a print button, but this is a step in the right direction.
It was always gong to be a sensible candidate for change. Anyone who has ever forgotten to print off a Ryanair boarding pass will know the horror of discovering that everyone in the party has to pay an incredible penalty for their absent-mindedness. When a family of four walks away at the start of their holiday with £280 less in their pocket, it's the kind of kick in the teeth that isn't forgotten quickly, and the damage to the brand far outweighs the benefit of a £280 cash injection.
Why cut it now?
It's the latest in a number of steps announced since Ryanair committed itself to better customer service 18 months ago. CEO Michael O'Leary told the company's AGM at the time "We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily p*ss people off."
Since then we have seen the firm bring in allocated seating and reduce the number of pre-checked boxes you need to opt out of when you're trying to book a flight without endless extras. It has also introduced a grace period of 24 hours during which you can correct spelling mistakes on your booking free of charge, and it allows people to travel with a small second carry-on bag - such as a handbag.
This isn't the first charge to be cut. It has also halved the cost of checking luggage in at the airport from £60 to £30, and cut the cost of reissuing a boarding card from £70 to £15.
The firm has committed to more changes in the future too, including a new website, and an app with a 'hold the fare' feature. There will also be new aircraft interiors, a new uniform and new in-flight menus.
The focus on improving service appears to be paying off. The company reported a 16% increase in passenger numbers in April (compared to a year earlier). O'Leary attributed the change - and an overall increase in passenger numbers - to the service improvements. He told Flight International: "If I'd known it would work so well, I'd have done it years ago."
However, research earlier this year indicated that the firm has a long way to go before it changes a reputation for poor service that has been established over so many years. The research, by advertising company Isobel, found that Ryanair was the fourth most loathed brand in the UK. It was only beaten by UKIP, the Conservative party, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) Marmite.
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