Easyjet vs Ryanair – the Joker’s still beating Batman

Easyjet is in the news again this week – this time, for painting it’s aircraft (8, as a trial) with a nanopolymer coating that reduces friction and therefore fuel use. If it works on the whole fleet, it would reduce fuel bills by up to 2% – and given 40% of easyJet’s costs are fuel, this is no small fry… and sets a good example for other airlines to improve fuel efficiency in a sector whose emissions continue to rise due to category growth. This is on top of already having one of the newest greenest quietest fleets of any airline.. rivalled only by… Ryanair.

This brings me to the easyJet vs Ryanair brand battle – such interest brands, such a tough marketplace… and in my mind so shocking that Ryanair does so much to alienate it’s customers, has endless negative press coverage, is openly ‘anti’ environmental concerns, and is synonymous with poor customer service… yet is still no1 low cost carrier ahead of easyJet (by 72million to 49 million passengers in 2010).

Part of this is to do with geographic coverage and sheer size of the fleet. But it does make you think, what on earth does the brand manager on Ryanair do?! The ONLY reason people use the airline is price and convenience.  Yet most press coverage agrees that for the average traveller, easyJet is cheaper as Ryanair is an extreme offender with added extras. Ryanair is a case study in how NOT to build brand trust – and yet its still a successful business.

By comparison, easyJet invest in added convenience services, they focus on primary airports not ones with a 50mile taxi ride to civilisation at the end, they don’t shout in the press about refusing to abide by regulations (cf Ryanair and the ashcloud debacle), and genuinely position themselves in the mind of the customer as a flexible low cost operator who values quality and customer service. Personally, I am always pleasantly suprised how smoothly the system works. What else can easyJet brand manager do in the face of a loudmouth disruptive non-compliant competitor who appears to treat people like cattle yet still leads?

5 years ago when the Stern report came out, I was quote in the press as saying low cost airlines needed to get over the grief and anger, stop fighting the truth of climate change, and get on with reducing their business impact and finding alternative business models. (Funnily enough I’ve not had any airline clients since then, though the Carbon Trust liked it!).  I still believe the low cost market will shrink in the coming decade as restrictions and taxes increase. And when it really hits the fan, I hope easyJet’s more rounded and conscientious strategy works, and Ryanair is the one who suffers…. It will be an acid test of whether supply-side controls can make markets more sustainable… Or whether there will always be a large mainstream body of people for whom nothing else matters except relative price, ever.