Europe's largest budget airline, Ryanair, has launched a flexible business-class ticket in its latest U-turn from a no-frills tradition.
The Dublin-based company, long Europe's fastest-growing carrier with a sell-it-cheap, stack-'em-high philosophy, says more than a quarter of its passengers already are business travellers. It hopes having a business class will allow it to capture three-fourths of all work travel between Britain and Ireland, its two biggest markets.
Wednesday's announcement sent Ryanair shares about 3 percent higher on the Irish Stock Exchange.
Marketed under the slogan "Your boss will approve," Ryanair's business ticket reverses some of the airline's more reviled policies for fee-dazzled travellers.
These pricier tickets allow a checked-in bag weighing up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds), which normally costs 25 euros to 75 euros ($33 to $99); preferential boarding and, at some airports, fast-track security lines; and most importantly, free changes to flights including on the day of travel.
The latter policy seeks to solve one of the great headaches of travel that made Ryanair off-limits for many business travelers: the risk of eating tickets and punitive penalties for altering anything.
Ryanair this year took a cold look in the mirror and decided it could get even more business if, in chief executive Michael O'Leary's typically blunt assessment, the airline stopped irritating people needlessly with.
Customers now can buy tickets online using debit cards without fees. They automatically receive seat assignments, ending long waits in line to secure position and making family travel easier. They can take two bags on board, no longer battling to shove airport purchases into an already full bag and avoid costly punishment at the boarding gate.
Ryanair last month boosted its 2014 earnings forecast, citing service improvements as the key driver of growth. It aims to carry 86 million passengers this year, 4.5 million more than last year, and is about to take delivery on the first of its new 180-aircraft contract with Boeing.
While Ryanair's business-branded ticket is strong on flexibility, other business-class staples remain absent. The airline has no executive lounges, there's no special menu, and no seats recline on its tightly packed aircraft. You'll pay extra to pre-book the least uncomfortable seats.
And while the airline increasingly is cutting deals to open services at Europe's business airports—with London's Heathrow a glaring exception—long-haul connections remain a nerve-wracking chore. Ryanair has started to allow travel agents to sell their tickets, but it does not transfer bags between flights. This leaves Ryanair as Europe's most ubiquitous choice for travelling from A to B, but not C.