While on our trip to South America, my daughter and I had the opportunity to meet an amazing family from Northern Ireland on holiday in Argentina for two weeks (SEE: The unexpected best part of our trip to South America). Their family of five would be visiting some of Argentina’s top destinations, including Iguazu Falls, Tierra del Fuego National Park, and Argentinian Patagonia. I was be lying if I said I wasn’t a little envious of all they planned to do.
Among a number of topics, we talked about travel. After discussing their awesome operational upgrade to premium economy due to a British Airways equipment swap on their long-haul to Ezeiza, we moved on to the topic of Ryanair. The ultra-low-cost carrier is headquartered in Dublin, and I could tell that they aren’t keen on their island’s largest airline, considering them a necessary evil that saves them a substantial amount on money on annual summer travel to Italy. They are even less fond of Mr. O’Leary, Ryanair’s current CEO, for all his attention-grabbing antics over the years.
But then one comment and question really surprised me: “Southwest Airlines’ founder mentored Ryanair’s CEO. Are they the U.S.’s version of Ryanair?”
Um. Say again?
Differences between Southwest and Ryanair
This about blew my mind. I mean…are there any similarities between the two airlines? Southwest offers an “everything included” model while Ryanair has the most à la carte model you can possibly find. Passengers are charged for everything. The low cost carrier might even start charging to use the lavatory.
Southwest doesn’t charge for cabin baggage or two checked bags. Ryanair charges you for all of these. Southwest offers free snacks and drinks. Ryanair charges for water (and everything else). Coffee, soft drinks, tea? Those will all cost you. I guess both carriers charge you for alcohol. But that is a given on pretty much every airline flying short-haul.
Change and cancellation fees are also vastly different. Southwest never charges change or cancellation fees. You can literally cancel a ticket up until 10 minutes before departure and still receive full credit for future use. Ryanair’s policy? Change fees start at €35, and you pay the difference in fare. Considering that this could possibly be more than the ticket itself, it’s pretty awful (yet not all that awful considering what some other airlines charge).
Similarities between Southwest and Ryanair
In the moment, I honestly couldn’t come up with any ways the two airlines are similar, besides the fact that both make enormous profits. There really isn’t a whole lot else that the two carriers have in common. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until a few days later that the major similarity suddenly struck me: Southwest and Ryanair share a unique point-to-point route model. Both do have hubs (of sorts), but the airlines are arguably not hub-centric. This is a unique feature among European carriers. KLM connects virtually everything through Amsterdam, Iberia through Madrid, Austrian through Vienna, etc. I could go on and on.
Ryanair doesn’t. Like Southwest as well as U.S. low cost carriers, they have a route network that has primarily point-to-point flights. None of the major U.S. airlines fly BOI-LAS. But Southwest operates the route (along with Allegiant). Ditto for SAT-MCO and ABQ-BWI (or ABQ to any other Washington D.C. area airports). You could argue that Las Vegas McCarran and Baltimore-Washington are both Southwest pseudo-hubs, but even the carriers that do have hubs in Washington (United at IAD, American at DCA) don’t operate a nonstop flight to Albuquerque.
Ryanair has analogous routes, including Seville to Cologne, Budapest to Marseille, and Edinburgh to Sofia. Many of these routes operate at a minimal frequency, sometimes only once a week, but at least passengers have the option to fly nonstop, if desired. The air regulations of the European Union allow carriers headquartered in one country to operate flights between any other European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) member countries (even domestic flights within a foreign country), thus allowing low cost carriers like Ryanair to fly routes such as Valencia to Seville, competing against Spanish airlines Iberia and Vueling.
The second similarity between Southwest and Ryanair is the use of secondary airports. Southwest uses Dallas Love Field instead of DFW, Houston Hobby instead of Intercontinental, and Chicago Midway instead of O’Hare. Ryanair does the same thing, operating out of Rome Ciampino instead of Fiumicino, London Stansted (and Luton and Gatwick and Southend) instead of London Heathrow (or City airport), and Paris Beauvais instead of Charles de Gaulle or Orly.
But things end there. I honestly cannot think of any other similarities between the two carriers, other than their high profits, which I mentioned before. Southwest raked in $3.5 billion in 2017 and Ryanair €1.45 billion in 2018.
Update – The first comment pointed out one I managed to completely overlook: the airlines’ fleet. Both operate an all-737 fleet!
The most hated man in Ireland
Michael O’Leary is a household name in Ireland (at least according to our Northern Irish friends), but not for good reasons. He appears to ascribe to the belief that any press is good press, causing outrage among passengers after suggesting that Ryanair may start charging for usage of the lav, and the possibility that the carrier may introduce “standing seats”. He has also ascribed to the crazy idea that your flight could potentially be free. But I’m sure the carrier will still make it up in fees for things such as space for your personal item, printing your boarding pass for you, and breathing the air in the cabin.
Ok, I made that last one up. But I wouldn’t put it past Mr. O’Leary to consider charging for oxygen.
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