The market for “low cost” airline travel grew strongly from the end of the 90s until very recently. Established “flag carrier” airlines lost market share as punters deserted them for far cheaper alternatives. But then came a recession, all those extra charges for things like checking in and baggage, and the pushing back from “full price” carriers through better publicity, and the advent of Opodo.
A new reality hit the low cost airlines, and that reality was that there was very little more expansion to be done in a marketplace that was almost saturated. And there was little point in trying to play airports off against one another, if the only casualty was the airline doing the playing. Belatedly realising that their bluff was being called, whatever the rhetoric, have been our old friends at Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care).
The old Ryanair tactic of bullying airports into lowering handling fees might have worked at smaller airports across France, but it didn’t work at Manchester, where Michael O’Leary’s finest flounced out in 2009, only to see rivals such as EasyJet, BMIBaby and Jet2 stay put, along with the charter boys. Ryanair bowed to the inevitable and returned to Manchester last January.
It was more of the same at Hahn, which is not near Frankfurt am Main: late last year, in an attempt to stop the German Government imposing a passenger levy of 8 Euro a time, Ryanair very publicly told how they would reduce their presence at Hahn, blaming what they called a “tourist tax”, rather than allowing the thought to enter that punters would rather fly from an airport that is near Frankfurt, rather than one that pretends to be.
Then, last month, Ryanair made great play of how the Irish Government was losing “high [sic] paid engineering jobs” as it opened its latest maintenance facility at ... Hahn. And there was a similar story at Marseille, after the announcement that Ryanair would close 13 routes from that airport from January 2011, leaving only ten routes remaining.
A check of the carrier’s route map right now reveals that, in the Ryanair world, withdrawing 13 routes and leaving only ten means that there are a total of, er, 25 routes from Marseille.Michael O’Leary and his pals at Ryanair talk tough, but the new reality is that this is just another paper tiger.