“Take a jumbo, cross the water, wanna see America” sang Supertramp in the seventies, and that was the last time truly cheap flights were available when Freddie Laker ran the Skytrains to JFK. Now Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is proposing super cheap flights to New York and Boston with return flights for just $10.
He made the announcement at a conference in Ireland this week, although he did caution that he needs to buy suitable long-haul aircraft first. He will need a fleet of 50 planes to commence the service from 14 UK airports. Ryanair has been a big part of the revolution in budget flights across Europe, O’Leary is proud that he still makes money on fares as low as 99 cents.
The downside for the passengers is that the airline is well and truly “no frills.” What they save on their tickets they often end up paying for in terms of additional charges for baggage, seating preference, and ultimately, discomfort. The seats are notoriously cramped. There are certainly no free meals, drinks or snacks, although they can be purchased. In fact, once on board, passengers are bombarded with offers to buy, everything from duty-free to scratch cards. It hardly matters on a short hop, when the chance to get away for a long weekend in Paris or Prague is beckoning. It may be more of an issue on a longer journey. There is also the effect on the eyes of the airline’s lurid yellow livery to contend with.
O’Leary intends to use the same model to keep transatlantic fares so low. He would charge more for all the “extras” which include the basic essentials of meals and bags. These practices have earned Ryanair a great deal of adverse criticism in the past. Their strict policy on baggage weight has seen many a flustered traveler frantically trying to re-pack a carry-on bag at check-in. Sometimes people end up wearing as many clothes as possible on their person so as to dodge the rules. The poor souls can then hardly fit into their seats.
Some of the more extortionate charges have recently been dropped, such as the former complete inability to make changes to a booking without forking out another $200 for the privilege, a process which defeated the lower fare in the first place. It also used to whack on a massive check-in charge for those who had not printed off their own boarding passes. This was another hugely unpopular and expensive ruse.
The entrepreneurial Irishman is a controversial figure, who admits himself that he can be seen as an “annoying prat.” He has hinted before at wide-ranging cost-cutting measures such as taking out the toilets on aircraft, or charging to use them (“pay-to-pee”); and bringing in standing-room only, which have raised eyebrows. His other “out of the box” ideas have had him suggesting putting passengers in bunks in the hull and stopping the use of two pilots, when one is enough to fly the plane.
Michael O’Leary is an outrageous, and oft-quoted, quoter. Some of his foot-in-mouth favorites are offensive and xenophobic. He has said the French have produced no great philosophers, that Germans will “crawl bollock-naked over broken glass,” to obtain cheaper fares and that he has encouraged pan-European peace by flying folk to Greece and Spain so they can become intimately acquainted.
He is no better on his own passengers, saying no one wants to sit beside a “fat b*****d,” admitting he asks his pilots to mimic turbulence to encourage hard drink sales, and that asking $60 to print a boarding pass serves people right for being “so stupid.” He has called his staff “lazy b*******s who need a kick up the backside,” the prime minister of Ireland a “gobshite” and himself, “Jesus. A prophet in his own time.”
Although Ryanair is consistently voted the worst choice when it comes to leg room, luggage, boarding and the food on board, it does not stop people using it. They carry 81 million passengers a year.
If his $10 return flights to America come in, it is highly likely they will be snapped up too. At present, even the most eagle-eyed bargain hunter would not get a fare to the US for under $500, even by booking months in advance. These fares would undercut every other operator. That’s why fliers en route to America are going to be saying “Yes please!” to these offers.
Those who are canny with the calculator have already cast some aspersions on the reality of the $10 cost. O’Leary has made no mention of the Air Passenger Duty currently payable on all air tickets from the UK to the USA. At present this is £67 ($112). If this was added in then the primary amount goes up considerably for the outbound leg of the trip. At minimum, the average passenger would then have to add-on £10 ($17) to choose a seat, around £25 ($42) for some food and drink for the 8 hour ride, and £70($117) to check in one small 15 kg bag. That comes to £185.20 ($309), but it is still a bargain. Just not a $10 bargain.
A business class cabin will be available to offset the cheaper seats and here, according to O’Leary, everything will be free. There are bound to be some who will think that the combination of the word Ryanair with the concept of Club Class is somwhat of an oxymoron.
Those who are used to hopping back and forth across the pond will be used to in-flight entertainment, something Ryanair has never previously offered. Nor do any of its existing craft have reclining seats. If their new planes for these routes did offer entertainment it is highly likely that O’Leary would find a way for passengers to have to pay for it. A good book is probably going to be necessary.
It has been many years since genuinely low-cost flights to America have been talked about, and if Ryanair succeed in bringing them about, fliers on both sides of the Atlantic are going to be better off. They may have to put up with less comforts but that is unlikely to stop them saying “Yes please!” to a ten-dollar fare.