Airline Extortion

I’ve just booked two ‘free’ return flights with flybe. As committed readers will know, I’m not a fan of Ryanair. I now feel a similar way about flybe.

Two free return flights: London Gatwick to Belfast City and back, for Vanessa and I in March. £191.92.

Free?

Well yes, I knew they wouldn’t be free. Airlines have a habit of breaking the cost of a flight into its component parts, siphoning them off the main fee and claiming there is nothing to pay. Then they charge you.

Not all of them do this. It is, in fact, possible to buy flights with easyJet and pay the price advertised.

Not so with flybe.

Taxes, duties, airport charges and security – £121.94

I know it is possible for two people to enjoy domestic return flights in the UK for less than this, but I accept this with reluctance.

One bag in the hold (£12.99 each way) – £25.98

This charge is not actually essential; I have, on occasion avoided it. But it is rather steep. At that price, it’s almost worth buying a new washbag at my destination every time I fly.

I am given the option to choose our seats. I’m not really bothered. I’d like to sit next to Vanessa, but we both agree not to pay through the nose. I’d like to grant flybe the privilege of choosing our seats, but it seems we still have to pay. Seats with extra legroom are £15 each way. But even standard seats attract a fee.

Standard seats (£6 each way per person) – £24

It is not possible to fly without accepting a seat. This should be inclusive in the main flight fee. Just like the taxes, etc.

Time to pay. We’re all familiar now with the concept of another charge being levied at this stage. But the concept (pay a fee to pay a bill) and the level of this charge are absurd. Either pay with Visa Electron (free, but who has one?) or pay a great deal more by debit or credit card. To make this process as cheap as possible, I pay by Visa Debit.

The privilege of paying for my flight – £20

£20! To process a card fee? Of course I thump in my details and confirm my payment with a bang of the mouse and a heavy heart.

Note this extract from my previous post on Ryanair:

When I buy a pint, the pub does not separately charge me for the glass to hold it in, the duty paid, the marketing costs of selling it and then a credit card fee. They may impose a minimum payment of £10, but implicit in that minimum is an acceptance that it is the pub and not the customer who will pay the fees.
(World of Wad, October 2009)

Perhaps I lament in vain, but I feel flybe and other airlines, including Ryanair, need to start behaving like normal businesses and do their sums before proposing to sell their product.

£191.92 for two return flights LGW-BCY is not cheap, but neither is it unreasonable.

But to be charged £191.92 for ‘free’ flights? Priceless.

Update (11 Feb 2011): Which? launches super complaint against debit/credit card surcharges, claiming budget airlines are among the worst offenders. The actual charge to retailers is no more than 20p for debit card transactions or a percentage of credit card transactions, thought to be no more than 2%.

Ryanair-bashing

I’m looking forward to this. I think Ryanair has a horrendous attitude towards its customers. There is plenty of room in the industry for new airlines but unfortunately each route would seem to have limited scope for competition.

It doesn’t seem reasonable to me that normal costs necessitated (for the vast majority of people) with flying are netted away from the actual price of the flight. The flight ‘prices’ are only so low because they don’t reflect the cost of the flight but depend on super-profit being generated by the fees on paying with a typical debit card or actually getting on the aircraft.

I wonder if the Competition Commission should consider imposing a rule that prices should as a minimum cover the cost of the product/service. It would have the effect of increasing Ryanair’s flight prices, but would also force their hand on other ridiculous costs.

There are certain costs which are basically part-and-parcel of providing flights to customers. Taxes and airport fees are among them. The fees due as a result of normal payment methods are also among them. They should be reflected in the cost of the flights. Even if they’re not reflected, it’s pretty clear that taking 120 people from London to Turin evidently can’t be done for £1.99 each. That ludicrous pricing policy needs to be changed.

When I buy a pint, the pub does not separately charge me for the glass to hold it in, the duty paid, the marketing costs of selling it and then a credit card fee. They may impose a minimum payment of £10, but implicit in that minimum is an acceptance that it is the pub and not the customer who will pay the fees.

I interviewed O’Leary once and asked him about customer satisfaction issues. He said Ryanair had the the lowest customer complaints of any major airline. What nonsense, surely? I expect most customers would not know how to complain such are the administrative barriers to doing so. I suspect the only way of doing so is via a premium rate phone line. Ryanair has no interest in customer satisfaction beyond the immediate impact on their turnover.

So I’m looking forward to watching Panorama on 12th October.