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20 May 2019

Is Ryanair getting worse?

Poor customer service drives down fares and profits at the budget airline

Ryanair has announced that profits have fallen by a third because it's been forced to reduce fares. It's no surprise that fares have had to be cut given its record low rating with passengers.

In our survey of nearly 8,000 airline passengers at the end of last year, Ryanair was rated the worst airline in the UK. But more worrying for the airline was the margin by which it finished last. Ryanair gained a customer score of just 40%. The second-worst airline in our survey received 52%. The best-rated budget rival received a whopping 75%.

See our best and worst airlines to see how Easyjet, Jet2 and British Airways were rated

Yet, despite Ryanair being rated last or nearly last almost as long as our annual survey has been running passengers have continued to book its flights. Tangles over ever stricter bag fees and aggressive customer service haven't put passengers off - but it seems cancellations and worsening delays might.

Ryanair cancellations ruin Christmas

Things went wrong for Ryanair in autumn 2017, when it suddenly announced it didn't have enough pilots for its scheduled flights. Some 400,000 passengers received a letter telling them that their flight had been cancelled. And 18 million more were left wondering if their flights would even take off, including some during the Christmas period.

The situation was worsened by Ryanair's refusal to follow the rules on rerouting passengers, leaving thousands waiting days to get where they had paid to go.

The scale of the disruption and Ryanair's poor handling of helping stranded passengers has almost certainly had a knock-on effect to its reputation. Ryanair usually brushes off criticism of its abrupt approach to customer service and aggressive fee charging by saying passengers will book its cheap fares anyway, but what good are cheap fares if the airline is going to cancel your flight and leave you stranded?

It's perhaps no surprise then that so many passengers told us they won't fly Ryanair - a staggering 70%, in fact, of all those who said that there's one airline they always avoid.

Ryanair always the cheapest budget airline?

Ryanair can point to increasing passenger numbers as proof customers are still willing to fly with it - but it's had to drop fares even further to convince them to book.

In part that's because there are other airlines with cheap fares on many routes. Norwegian Air has arrived at many Ryanair airports, while Jet2 has continued to expand the number of UK airports it flies from. Both are rated as far better than Ryanair by passengers.

More competition means Ryanair no longer offers the cheapest fare on every route - that's especially true if you're flying as a family, meaning you'll need to pay to sit next to your child and may want to bring luggage.

When we priced up a London to Alicante flight earlier this year, Ryanair had the cheapest headline price at £52, versus £68 with Jet2. But add in a checked suitcase and assigned seat and the total with Jet2 was £114, versus £134 with Ryanair.

Value or price

Perhaps the most concerning result for Ryanair from our most recent passenger survey was its rating for value for money. While it has been rated towards the bottom of our survey overall for several years, passengers have always rated it three stars out of five for value for money; a reflection that poor customer service and comfort could be overlooked if the price was right.

This year, for the first time, this rating fell to just two stars. That's the joint-lowest in our survey. A reflection that low fares isn't the whole story when it comes to value.