James Daley

By James Daley

After years of showing contempt for its customers, Ryanair has been on a charm offensive over the past few months. It's got a new shiny website. It's finally got rid of its sneaky administration charge, and yesterday, it even announced a package of new family measures, including a free baggage allowance for infants and half price priority boarding for children.

There's no doubt that all of this is good news for the millions who fly Ryanair every year. But as long as the same management team continue to run the airline, it's hard to believe there's been any kind of a cultural shift in the organisation. There has indeed been a change in pricing - driven by the harsh reality that easyjet was cleaning up at its expense. But the old Ryanair still lurks under the surface.

If you try and buy a ticket on the Ryanair website, you're still given a good push towards accidentally buying a travel insurance policy. Instead of being asked to opt into travel insurance, you're still presented with a drop down menu where you're asked to select your country of residence. If you do so, you opt yourself into buying travel insurance. The only way to opt out is to select "Don't Insure Me" - an option which you'll find hiding in between Denmark and Finland in the drop down list.

I'm fairly sure this puts Ryanair in breach of the Financial Conduct Authority's principles around Treating Customers Fairly. And it doesn't look good on its insurance partner, UK General Insurance Limited, either - which boasts on its website about the fact it has earned a Gold Investment in People award. If it considers itself a responsible company, it should be putting pressure on Ryanair to be responsible too.

Can leopards change their spots?

My suspicion is that were Ryanair to find itself back in rude profit, it wouldn't hesitate to resort back to more of these old style tactics. Just a year or so ago, it just didn't seem to mind how rude it was to its customers.

When Which? launched its super-complaint into unfair debit and credit card surcharges back in 2011 - this was Ryanair's response:

"Before making ‘Super Duper Complaints’ the clueless clowns at ‘Which, Who or What’ magazine, should conduct some basic research. Ryanair does not levy any credit or debit card payment ‘surcharges’. Even our administration fee is avoidable by passengers who use our recommended MasterCard Prepaid.

"Isn’t it bizarre that this useless and irrelevant ‘consumer magazine’ is again complaining about ‘low cost airlines’ while, yet again, ignoring British Airway’s unjustified, unfair and unavoidable fuel surcharges. Perhaps this is why 78m passengers this year will chose to fly Ryanair while less than 30m will fly on fuel surcharging BA, and less than one man and his dog will buy the useless and irrelevant ‘Which, Who or What’ magazine.

"If it wasn’t for dentist waiting rooms or doctors’ surgeries it is doubtful whether anyone even reads the useless and frequently inaccurate ‘Which, Who or What’ magazine."

These words were from the same team that runs the business today. And for the record, Which?'s super-duper complaint led to new rules banning companies from charging excessive fees for paying by card.

I do believe people and businesses can change, but not overnight. I won't be setting foot on a Ryanair plane until I've heard at least 10 people spontaneously evangelise about their experience. And given that Ryanair still has its seats crammed together, not enough room for hand baggage on its planes - and is still trying to trip people up into buying travel insurance - I'm doubting that the evangelists will be appearing anytime soon.