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Watchdog slams Ryanair for "taunting consumers"

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4th Jan 2010
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Budget airline Ryanair is under fire again, this time for its online credit card payment procedures.

The head of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched a stinging attack on budget airline Ryanair, slamming its payments policy and labelling the firm "puerile and childish".

Speaking with The Independent, OFT chief executive John Fingleton, blasted Ryanair for charging customers additional fees for using all but one credit card - the MasterCard prepaid card - to pay online.

Fringleton suggests that the firm is exploiting a legal loophole to justify the added charges, with the present law stating that providing an airline offers at least one free payment method, it is allowed to advertise cheap fares that do not include extra credit card charges.

Customer service expert Shaun Smith provides his assessment of the controversial airline. Click here for his analysis.

Fingleton told The Independent: "Ryanair has this funny game where they have found some low frequency payment mechanism and say: 'Well, because you can pay with that'. It's almost like taunting consumers and pointing out 'Oh well, we know this is completely outside the spirit of the law, but we think it's within the narrow letter of the law'".

He added: "On some level it's quite puerile - it's almost childish."

Responding to the criticism, Ryanair has defended its payment model, emphasising that it allows passengers to avoid costs such as baggage charges which are still included in the fares of many other airlines.

Ryanair Head of Communications Stephen McNamara said: "Ryanair is not for the overpaid John Fingletons of this world but for the everyday Joe Bloggs who opt for Ryanair's guaranteed lowest fares because we give them the opportunity to fly across 26 European countries for free, £5 and £10."

Ryanair is no stranger to controversy regarding its payment policy. Last year its passengers were landed with a mandatory £5 online fee after it removed check-in desks, while the cost of checking-in bags was also raised.

Nevertheless, despite criticism over these so-called "hidden" charges, the airline continues to be hugely successful, with its profits soaring by 80% in the six months to the end of September 2009, while at the same time many rivals have struggled.

A nicer, warmer, caring Ryanair?

Irrespective of this, there are signs that the relentless criticism of Ryanair - and its boss Michael O’Leary - is having an effect. O'Leary has admitted that the budget airline has a poor public image in terms of customer care and in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph he insisted that the situation will improve when he steps down in two year’s time.

In the interview, he said that he had not done "a very good job on the whole customer image" of the airline, but that things would change "one way or another come 2012" when he left after more than 17 years at the helm.

When asked about what would be required from his successor, O’Leary indicated that candidates would need to possess qualities that he did not have. "Sensitivity, passenger care, environmentally-sensitive – all that good, warm crap. They’d need to make up for 20 years of my mismanagement in the areas that I don’t manage well," he said.

O’Leary added that the airline would become a "nicer, warmer, caring" one with him gone, even though it currently offered a "phenomenal" service in terms of fares, punctuality, lost bags and cancellations.

Moreover, he indicated that, although "half of our passengers would like to see me dead and buried", he frankly "couldn’t care less as long as they fly with us".

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