A glance at Ryanair’s list of routes reveals a surfeit of brackets. The Irish carrier that spearheaded the low-cost airline revolution has to qualify a large number of its destinations. To the uninitiated or those less worldly-wise, the contents of these brackets means very little. To those in the know, to the airport operators and to the airline’s marketing department however, these names tell a very different story. Book bargain flights to Frankfurt (Hahn), Brussels (South), Paris (Beauvais), Stockholm (Vasteras), Oslo (Torp), Venice (Treviso) and Barcelona (Girona) and you may not end up quite where you thought you would. What lies behind these names and why have they changed the way many of us travel?

Ryanair’s principal strategy is to maximise revenue by cutting operating costs to the barest minimum. These reduced costs can then be passed on to the paying customer in the form of consistently low fares. Their latest Boeing 737 aircraft are being delivered with seats that do not recline, without window blinds and without seatback pockets. The safety card information is now stuck to the back of the seat in front and sickness bags are available “on request”. These aircraft spend the barest minimum time on the ground and require the most basic facilities at airports to which they fly. Ryanair flies to airports which offer significantly lower operating charges. Until the advent of Ryanair services, many of these fields were quiet backwaters or even disused former military bases. Often away from large population centres and major transport links, these airports were crying out for a new lease of life. The arrival of Ryanair services was to provide that lifeline. The task for Ryanair’s marketing department was to ensure that passengers wanted to fly there.

The former US air force base at Hahn in Germany is a perfect example of what we might call the Ryanair destination strategy. Located deep in the German countryside, with just a small number of weekly cargo flights to disturb the peace and quiet, Ryanair was persuaded to establish operations to London Stansted. In the airline’s advertisements, the airport was described as Frankfurt (Hahn). The city of Frankfurt is in fact located some 75 miles (120 km) to the east. Similarly, until the arrival of Ryanair, Torp airport south of Oslo had catered to a small regional market using largely turboprop aircraft. With the launch of services by the Irish carrier, the airport found itself re-branded as Oslo (Torp) although it is again some 75 miles (120 km) from the centre of the city. In the same way, Vasteras and Skavsta airports are both marketed as serving Stockholm, the centre of which is respectively 60 miles (96 km) and 55 miles (88 km) distant. To stifle objections, Ryanair provides a bus link to the city it claims to serve. These bus journies can often take as long and cost as much as the flight itself. The demand however is quite obviously there. In the case of Frankfurt (Hahn), the airline now offers at least four daily return flights to London in addition to services to its other bases throughout Europe.

At first glance, describing airports located at such distances from the city they purport to serve would appear misleading. In the early days of operation Ryanair was indeed challenged over its use of city names and airports and in some cases was forbidden to link the two. However, with those legal battles behind it, the airline has now significantly widened choice and available options. As a case in point, “The Official Airline Guide (OAG)” now displays Beauvais-Tille under its list of Paris airports although it is located some 65 miles (105 km) north of the city and is principally served by Ryanair. Such distances will remain a huge disincentive to travellers who need to travel city centre to centre in as short a time as possible. For those on a budget or with more flexible plans however these airports offer a massive new variety of choice.

Ryanair has realised that people will fly pretty much wherever the airport is located. Many people looking for a weekend away would struggle to place Haugesund, Esbjerg, Altenburg, Lodz or Rodez on a map. As the natural development of the expansion strategy, the small airports are now being marketed in their own right. This serves to tap into a ready local market and also serves to open up whole swathes of Europe to those keen on the unusual for short breaks. In addition, many of these routes have now established a lifeline for those who have bought second properties in the depths of the French, Italian or Spanish countryside but a short flight back to the UK or Ireland. In many cases Ryanair is the only scheduled international carrier serving these airports; the French airports of Carcassonne, Pau and Dinard being cases in point.

Whenever Ryanair now announces a new tranche of destinations, there are always those willing to provide evocative titles for those airports. Tangier North (Granada - Spain), Kiev West (Wroclaw - Poland) and Helsinki South (Kaunas – Lithuania) are extreme examples but capture the perception of the ethos behind the marketing strategy. This imitation is indeed flattering because it acknowledges success. The travelling public has clearly voted with their feet and has demonstrated that it will put up with minimal facilities both in the air and on the ground to ensure cheap prices.


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