Is Hell Freezing Over? (Ryanair Looking To Work With British Airways)

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Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) have traditionally had somewhat fractious relationships with full-service (legacy) airlines and Ryanair’s relationship with British Airways has been no different.

Michael O’ Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, has never been short of words and hasn’t shied away from comments about British Airways either:

The problem for Willie Walsh is that the board of BA has no spine, no balls and no vision.

O’Leary also hasn’t been shy about his thoughts on the full-service airlines as whole. When asked, back in 2002, if there was anything full-service airlines could do to restore their health, his answer was typically forthright:

No. They’re basket cases. They’re incredibly high-cost, very inefficient, and they’re locked into businesses where yields are in inexorable decline. These are stupid businesses for the amount of capital tied up in them. They never make any money.

Well, it turns out that O’Leary isn’t too worried about doing business with a board that “has no spine” or with businesses that are “stupid”.

Michael O'Leary Ryanair CEOMichael O’Leary at the World Travel & Tourism Conference 2015

Ryanair has confirmed that it’s in talks with a number of long-haul carriers (including British Airways) on  providing their passengers with connecting flights to and from smaller airports that the long-haul carriers don’t service.

In an interview with Bloomberg, O’Leary is quoted as saying that, within the next 10 years, “the low-fare airlines will be doing most of the feed for the flag carriers” and he confirmed that Ryanair is in talks with IAG (British Airway’s parent company), Virgin Atlantic, Norwegian and TAP about providing short-haul feed traffic. Lufthansa and Air France-KLM were also mentioned but no talks were confirmed.

The mention of Norwegian seems strange as it’s an LCC just like Ryanair and has a noticeably different business model to the other airlines mentioned….but presumably O’Leary knows what he’s talking about so we’ll just have to see what comes of this.

The idea of Ryanair working with some of the full-service airlines makes sense. Although a lot of the legacy airlines are sitting pretty right now that’s mainly down to the low cost of oil. As soon as the price of oil goes up (does anyone believe that it won’t?) things will look very different and the short-haul routes will be the ones that hurt the legacies the most.

Having LCCs feed traffic into the long-haul routes would not only help keep the legacies’ costs down but it would also add a layer of insurance for a large group of travelers:

Travelers that already use the LCCs to connect to long-haul routes have to book separate tickets for their short-haul and their long-haul flights…and when something goes wrong with one flight there’s no protection for them if they then miss the second one. Closer cooperation between the LCCs and the long-haul airlines should see the end of that risk.

Lastly, I can’t help wondering if Michael O’Leary is wishing some of his past comments weren’t quite so easily searchable on the internet. For a man who’s in talks with the long-haul airlines on providing “connections” for their passengers, this quote must be a little embarrassing:

Code-sharing, alliances, and connections are all about “how do we screw the poor customer for more money?” — Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, quoted in BusinessWeek Online, 12 September 2002.

I look forward to seeing how Ryanair and its future partners plan to screw me for more money…..I have no doubt they’ll try 🙂


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