What Ryanair could learn from America’s favourite low-cost carrier

Sep 16, 2019

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Southwest is famously known in the aviation industry for being the pioneer of the low-cost model. Its founder, the late Herb Kelleher, created the so-called ‘Southwest effect’, which rippled across the world, changing the way we travel. Affordable fares, no frills and point-to-point service is the foundation that was created by the airline and then replicated all over the world. The most notable in Europe are EasyJet and Ryanair.

Despite its ridiculously low fares from as little as £4.99 one-way, Ryanair is often in the news for all the wrong reasons. From crew striking over pay and unfair treatment, to the very outspoken and sometimes controversial CEO, Michael O’Leary.

So, what are the reasons why Americans love Southwest and us Brits love to hate Ryanair?

Fair treatment

At the recent World Aviation Festival in London, David Harvey, Southwest’s vice president of corporate sales, explained the success of the airline in terms of both finances and reputation as being down to the way the airline conducts its business. First and foremost, said Harvey, our employees are most important because if they’re treated well, this should then have a drastic impact on their work ethic and, in turn, the impression that passengers have on the airline. If that works out right, the finances should come naturally. And indeed that seems to have been the case.

It’s a very different story on this side of the Atlantic, however.

It’s fair to say, that Ryanair is not the only airline where the employees have disputed over pay, but the problem reaches a whole new level. Ryanair’s relationship with its employees, especially those in the air, is rather turbulent, with crew being forced to pay for food and drinks while on duty as well as their for their uniforms. The penny-pinching efforts and mistreatment are being felt by passengers, too, who rated the airline at the bottom of the list after a recent survey by Which?.

Loyalty programme

Southwest Airlines’ loyalty programme Rapid Rewards is amongst the top-rated in the world thanks to its aim of earning miles fast and easy. Not only that, the airline has teamed up with American bank Chase to create four versions of the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card. By signing up and hitting a specified spend limit, you can earn up to 60,000 miles within the first 12 months. It is very rare for low-cost airlines to offer this kind of perk — especially one with a miles-earning credit card.

Harvey emphasized that the airline wants to be the most rewarding to its customers as well as being as transparent as possible. What does that mean? Well, there are unlimited reward seats and absolutely no blackout dates, which is more than can be said for the loyalty schemes of many other full-service carriers. Similar to British Airways’ Companion Voucher, Southwest offers its top-tier members a Companion Pass, which entitles you to a family member, friend, colleague or your postman to travel an unlimited amount of times on the same flight as you for free.

Checked baggage fees

Ryanair has the most stringent baggage rules of the main low-cost carriers operating to and from the UK. The lowest fare option permits you to only one small, personal item, which must be stowed under the seat in front of you with dimensions 40cm x 20cm x 25cm.

Southwest once again puts Ryanair to shame. The airline offers not one, but a staggering two checked pieces of baggage for free to every single passenger. If that wasn’t enough, each passenger also has the right to one carry on bag of size 10 x 16 x 24 inches and a smaller, personal item of size 18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inches.

Bottom line

It would seem that while Ryanair did a great job at the copy-and-paste of Southwest’s low-cost business model, it still has a lot to learn. The saddest part of all is that Ryanair continues continues to be the airline of choice for many sun, adventure and city break-seeking Brits. The fares are often unbelievably low and Ryanair is more often than not the only airline to operate on certain routes.

Featured image by Marcos del Mazo/Getty Images

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