It’s somewhat difficult to associate Ryanair, Ireland’s low-cost airline, with a premium experience—or with luxury in any sense. In the past, I’ve often described the airline to friends who were traveling abroad as a bus that happens to be able to fly.
When I lived in Ireland in 2008, I must have flown on Ryanair more than 10 times. The price of a flight from Dublin to London, where I had friends, was so laughably cheap I think it worked out to something like $20 USD. As a result, I went often. But as with most consumer goods: you get what you pay for. I remember the seats being hard plastic that could not recline; I recall not being allowed to bring my carry-on; I recall not being able to print my boarding pass within four hours of a flight, and being charged a fee to print it at the airport (seriously).
But now Ryanair has rolled out Business Plus, its new and first ever crack at an upscale offering. It promises: flexibility on ticket changes (well, “subject to availability”); 20kg baggage allowance (“check in and chill out!”); fast track airport security (at selected airports: Barcelona El Prat, Brussels Charleroi, Dublin, East Midlands, Liverpool, London Stansted, Manchester, and Milan Bergamo); priority boarding; and premium seats with “extra leg room” and “speedy exit.” For these bonuses, your ticket will start at €69.99—just under $90 USD, which is, to be fair, still dirt-cheap for a business-class seat.
If all of these promises are as they seem, Ryanair could have a successful new division here. But even this list leaves more to be desired. And some airline customers on Twitter remain skeptical:
Here are five things I’d want from my “premium” Ryanair experience. After all, the company says the Business Plus offering is a part of its “Always Getting Better” program.
1. Better seats. I have vivid, scarring memories of hitting bad turbulence in a small plane in an upright seat, my back rigid and sweating. It was good for posture, but bad for my mental state. If I’m going to die hurtling toward the ground in a cramped, low-cost tin can, I at least want to be lying back in a decent seat. But Ryanair’s Business Plus seats are not any bigger, and they still do not recline. (They are, however, leather.) What would you expect from an airline whose CEO Michael O’Leary, back in 2010, explored options to initiate standing-room-only tickets at the back of its planes? O’Leary worked with Boeing on designs, predicting the “vertical seats” could cost under $10 euro, but due to safety restrictions they haven’t yet become a reality.
2. Food. Give me some food—just a snack, at least. Something! Sure, Ryanair isn’t the only airline guilty of trying to charge everyone for every crumb—American Airlines (AAL), on a recent flight I took, had nary a free pretzel bag, only food that was on sale—but this is business class. A Ryanair spokesperson says the Business Plus customers have access to “the full Ryanair menu… available for purchase” but there is no free morsel to be added. Some mixed nuts, at least? A cup of orange juice? It doesn’t need to be a champagne flute. Look, stay away from using the word “plus” if you won’t even give me a potato chip or two.
3. Business bathrooms. This is an airline so focused on cutting costs that O’Leary has considered removing all but one toilet. He also considered charging customers to use the toilet. (Many press outlets have erroneously reported, over the years, that it does charge, but it never did; a Ryanair spokesperson tells Fortune, “All of our customers can pee for free.”) But the Business Plus package offers no Business Plus bathroom. Sure, a minor gripe, but isn’t one of the biggest perks of business class having a fancy, business-class-only bathroom? It’s one of the factors that make the suckers in coach gaze up the aisle enviously at those beyond the curtain. (Ryanair’s business class, by the way, has no curtain.) Give your harried, Business Plus customers a toilet to use that hasn’t been used by 100 other individuals in the past hour.
4. Airport lounge. Oh, the luxury and bliss of an airport lounge. I had never been in one until this past spring, when I was at LaGuardia for a flight to West Virginia on Delta (DAL) and realized my American Express card allowed me access to the Delta Sky Club. It was lovely: cold beverages, cozy seats, fast wi-fi, and best of all, near silence. If Ryanair had a lounge, it would never be like the Delta Sky Club. But why not try, at least? If Ryanair is shooting to be known as more than ultra-budget, then an executive lounge would seem to be a must. Let the people lounge!
5. Honesty. Ryanair is notorious for hidden fees—it’s no wonder a blog called I Hate Ryanair has existed since 2008—but part of its effort with Business Plus seems to be transparency; it is promising the ability to change your ticket without incurring fees. And yet when buying his ticket online, Twitter user Harry Brignull discovered some tricky fine print: after a list of the features of Business Plus, an alert indicates: “These services must be selected at the time of booking in order to include them free of charge.” Another example: on its page of Business Plus features Ryanair cites “extra leg room” and “speedy exit.” But in fact the seats designated for Business Plus offer either extra leg room or speedy exit; not both. (The “premium” seats are in the very front or rear of the plane, and those offer first on, first off boarding and departing, or they are the over-the-wing exit row seats and offer extra leg room.) Ryanair, keep jerking everyone else around—it has worked so far, since your company has the biggest share of the low-cost airline market in Europe, according to Official Airline Guide (though second-place easyJet is not far behind)—but couldn’t you shoot to be honest with your higher-paying business-travel folks?
Of course, even if none of these wishes is feasible, European business travelers can at least rejoice at another excitement that has been less extolled in the press: as CMO Kenny Jacobs touts in a press release, the Business Plus rollout also includes… a new website.