There is no great surprise to learn which airline is the least popular among British travellers – especially if you have flown with that particular carrier.

But there is more of interest in the survey that has singled out no-frills pioneer Ryanair (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6087016.stm), it also gives a fairly accurate snapshot of the travel industry at present and does a reasonable job of identifying possible new trends.

Many of the headlines associated with the TripAdvisor survey (http://www.tripadvisor.com) will invariably be dominated by the section headed “least liked”. This is understandable given Ryanair’s prominence in that section and the on-going attempt by its flamboyant and out-spoken owner Michael O’Leary to take over the Irish state carrier Aer Lingus.

Indeed,if the hostile take-over wasn’t happening, there is still a fair chance that Ryanair would be in the news anyway – whether it is Mr O’Leary’s threat to sue the government for loss of business over the new hand baggage rules and tighter security checks, or the Office of Fair Trading cracking down on his company’s small print, the genial Irishman appears to believe that all publicity is useful self-publicity.

Elsewhere in the survey, we discover that British Airways has been named best airline. This in itself is an interesting insight into the industry as it is evident that the BA of today is a very different operator to the BA of, say, five years ago.

Back then there was a rather noticeable whiff of arrogance and complacency about BA. I well remember taking a short hop from Birmingham to Paris with the “world’s favourite airline” and proclaiming in a travel feature that I would rather take Ryanair in future, at least they didn’t pretend to do anything other than take your money and treat you like cattle. I expected more from BA and these days you do get more.

BA has undoubtedly learned important lessons from the budget carriers and our willingness to chose no-frills on flights and maybe upgrade our accommodation with the money we have saved. The marketing, ticketing and general operational lessons have also come thick and fast. It was also interesting to see at least one carrier, albeit for a brief period, beating BA at its own game.

Although Duo collapsed rather spectacularly, during the few months it flew it set a benchmark that BA has worked hard to achieve in recent years. Duo showed BA how to provide “business class at budget prices” and when Duo floundered, so BA picked up the baton and ran.

The no-frills brigade have dealt a timely shake-up to the entire industry – hotels and other accommodation providers, for example, have also been taking note of the way budget airlines have attracted a new breed of traveller.

We are becoming a lot more savvy when it comes to organising trips, many of us now preferring the DIY approach to the traditional travel agents and tour operators. It is also clear that a growing section of the population is no longer confining itself to one fortnight-long summer holiday and maybe a weekend break – 3, 4, 5 and more trips away, of varying lengths, are becoming the norm.

It is also good to see Heathrow named the world’s least favourite airport – personally, I kind find absolutely no redeeming qualities for it – while Changi in Singapore topped the poll in that particular section.

The budget airlines have breathed new life into the travel market and yet this survey and the personal experience of so many also proves that, at the end of the day, you really do get what you pay for and shouldn’t expect anything else.

(There is a more detailed feature about the impact of  budget airlines on the travel industry in the “Features” section of this site, or at http://www.pdgjournalism.com/features/budget_airlines_2006.html). 

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