O’Leary Fields Ryanair Twitter Views in Charm Offensive

Ryanair Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary threw himself into the airline’s new charm offensive, using its recently started Twitter feed to engage in an often heated exchange with customers.

The CEO, 52, took questions on the Irish carrier’s stance on issues ranging from the trumpet-fanfare recordings played in the cabin when a flight arrives on time to why Ryanair, Europe’s biggest discount airline, is trying to improve its image.

O’Leary, who has cultivated a take-no-prisoners outspokenness, said last month that he may need to moderate his comments to win over fliers in the U.K. and Germany who view his Dublin-based company as too down-market. He hasn’t entirely abandoned the tongue-in-cheek approach, using a picture of himself in leprechaun costume on the Twitter discussion yesterday and scheduling the release tomorrow of Ryanair’s annual calendar featuring bikini-clad employees.

“We are no longer the Robin Hood, we’re no longer the challenger, we’re now the establishment,” O’Leary said at a conference in London today. “We do need to evolve certain aspects of our business so we’re more facilitating.”

More than 1,500 questions were submitted for the Twitter session, and O’Leary will host another discussion in coming months, the CEO said. Ryanair is looking to “communicate a more sophisticated message,” he said.

Mobile-Phone App

In addition to the Twitter feed, Ryanair’s reputation-upgrade work has included offering its mobile-phone application for free and outlining an overhaul of its website to close the gap to what O’Leary has said is a superior, customer-friendly booking process at EasyJet Plc.

Ryanair said on Sept. 20 that it will drop a security software link at the end of this month for individuals seeking to reserve flights. O’Leary said today that the website’s complete revision will go online in mid-December.

The airline is developing family-oriented and group-friendly products for later this year, the CEO said. The offers, to be announced next month, will be linked to a new registration system that stores travel details such as customer names, credit card numbers and address for future bookings. Incentives under consideration include allowing families to pool bags and discount packages for ancillary services like reserved seating, O’Leary said.

Reviewing Fees

Ryanair is also reviewing some fee and baggage policies, such as charging passengers who fail to print their boarding pass before arriving for a flight, O’Leary said. At London Stansted, its biggest base airport, Ryanair is softening its stance limiting customers to a single carry-on item. As of Nov. 1, passengers will be allowed to carry a small bag of airport shopping in addition to their hand luggage, he said.

The airline is working on a less confrontational relationship with airports, O’Leary said. Ryanair announced a new 10-year growth agreement with Stansted airport last month, with a goal of increasing it passenger numbers there by 50 percent to more than 20 million. London needs three more runways, with one each at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick airports, he said during the Twitter discussion.

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