Ryanair plans for Birmingham expansion

A Ryanair Boeing 737 in flight. The airline expects to grow its operations at Birmingham Airport by 25 per cent

A Ryanair Boeing 737 in flight. The airline expects to grow its operations at Birmingham Airport by 25 per cent

Ryanair’s policy of paying more attention to customer service has been highlighted as a key factor behind plans to grow its business by 25 per cent at Birmingham Airport.

Growth at Birmingham includes four new routes to Corfu, Madrid, Verona and Vilnius, as well as additional flights to Alicante, Barcelona, Dublin, Malaga, Malta and Palma.

In all the Dublin-based budget airline is introducing 23 new routes from Birmingham in its summer 2016 schedule in a move that is expected to see its passenger numbers at Birmingham soar to 1.75 million each year.

Ryanair’s head of sales and marketing, Carol Anne O’Neill, said the airline’s growth at Birmingham, which outstrips its wider growth forecast, could at least in part be directly attributed to its ‘Always Getting Better’ programme.

Introduced last year, the initiative saw a radical new approach to customer service and new bases, a new personalised website, a new app, new cabin interiors, new crew uniforms and improved inflight menus.

Carol Anne O’Neill

Carol Anne O’Neill

Crucially it also offers allocated seating and the opportunity for passengers to have a second carry-on bag.

Carol Anne said: “We did need to up our game in terms of the customer experience and we are seeing more passengers travelling with us because the customer experience is now a much better one.

“Michael O’Leary has been quoted as saying if he knew that being nice to customers would make him more money he would have started being nicer a long time ago. We have had a fantastic year.”

Ryanair has certainly enjoyed a resurgence. Following two profit warnings in 2013, in September this year the airline increased its full-year profit forecast to between €1.18 billion and €1.21 billion.

Carol Anne said the additional routes at Birmingham are part of wider growth plans for the airline.

It currently has 328 aircraft but has ordered 380 new aircraft as part of a renewal that should see its fleet grow to 520 aircraft by 2024.

In addition to the new routes at Birmingham, Ryanair’s expansion at the airport sees its Dublin service increase from four to six flights a day, while its Barcelona service increases from one flight daily to nine each week.

The Alicante service will increase from ten flights a week to 14, Malaga from a daily flight to nine a week, Malta up to three a week from twice-weekly and Palma up from seven flights a week to nine.

Ryanair’s Always Getting Better programme has also seen the launch of a business class service on all its flights and Carol Anne said the airline is keen to attract more customers from the business community, particularly in the Midlands.

“We want to attract the business customer, so launched our Business Plus and we will continue to enhance that,” she said.

“Business Plus was launched at the end of August 2014 and we have had a very good response to it – it is growing.

“It is for anyone who wants to get on and off quickly, as most business people do, and our on-time performance gives it added appeal from a business perspective.”

Among other features it includes being fast-tracked, priority boarding, allocated seating and an additional baggage allowance.

Carol Anne said the airline’s performance generally in the wake of its Always Getting Better programme launch had been pleasing and added:

“We are offering as good a service as any other airline now – if not better – and our fares will also be the lowest.”

Ryanair’s growth at Birmingham also demonstrates it commitment to the Midlands, according to Carol Anne.

The airline’s presence at the airport, which is estimated to support 1,300 on-site jobs, dates back to 1993 and it has had a base there with two aircraft since 2008.

Carol Anne said: “Like in Ireland with airports like Cork, Shannon, Belfast City and Derry I think people want to fly from their local airport.”