LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers, said it was stepping up its assault on rivals outside of the budget sector with plans to lure more business customers.
Since last September Ryanair has gradually been turning its back on its “abrupt culture” in a bid to woo new passengers from higher-cost rivals and fill hundreds of new planes.
Chief executive Michael O‘Leary said the airline would lure business customers by flying to more convenient airports, so-called “primary” airports, in a move which emulates low-cost rival easyJet.
“We’re talking to primary airports today that we don’t already fly to in Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark..and there’s a few others,” he told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
The company also has plans to offer customers a new service in May.
“You’re a business person, you have different needs. You may want to fast-track through security. We’re going to have a product that’s going to allow you to do that,” he said.
Ryanair said improvements to its website and a policy brought in earlier this year of allocating seats on flights were already boosting advance bookings. For May, June and July, they are running five percentage points ahead of where they were in 2013, O‘Leary said.
easyJet has attracted more business customers since introducing allocated seating 18 months ago, and by offering more flexible ticketing, encroaching into the traditional territory of legacy carriers such as Lufthansa.
Ryanair’s O‘Leary, known for his brusque personality and expletive-filled rants, on Wednesday dismissed questions about his suitability to lead the new customer-friendly Ryanair.
Further in the future, the Irishman is continuing to explore his long-stated plan of taking the Ryanair model to compete in the trans-Atlantic market.
“We’re actively looking for aircraft. Not as Ryanair but as a sister company,” he said, adding that the company was talking to planemakers Boeing and Airbus but the shortage of longhaul aircraft meant that any developments were four or five years away. (Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)