I have just had a very bad experience with a well known budget airline (Ryanair) and I haven’t even left home yet. 

It reinforced my view that I will only travel with that airline when I have no other practical choice.

So how come it is highly profitable?

The bad experience started when I had to try to decipher unreadable text just to access results from my flight search: 

I find these Captchas very awkward and usually try to avoid sites which insist on such measures, rather as I would not enter a bricks and mortar shop where a burly door keeper challenged me in a similarly threatening tone. (I do know that Econsultancy has to use them occasionally to avoid spam, but not every time I log in). 

As previously reported on this blog, the captcha security step is intended to make life difficult for screenscrapers. 

However, as is often the case with this airline, no-one else flies to the airport I wanted, so I had to suffer the captcha step. 

The next stage was OK and I selected a suitable flight but then the fun really began.

In order to avoid buying their insurance (I already have my own) I had to go into the insurance dialogue and click the ‘Please select a country of residence’ drop down, then scroll down until ‘Don’t cover me’ appeared, curiously between Latvia and Lithuania. 

And so it went on, with the system trying to bully or trick me into buying things I didn’t want before charging me a ridiculous amount for ‘web check-in’ (not quite as ridiculous as the amount for real check in) and credit card fees.

To add insult to injury, the web site ‘locked’ and I had to start again before eventually booking my flight.

It really was an unpleasant experience and reinforced my view that I will only travel with that airline when I have no other practical choice. So how come it is highly profitable?

Does that mean that the time and effort we spend as user experience consultants applying psychology to interface design doesn’t actually matter? I don’t think so. Even the web designers in this airline have applied behavioural insight but in their case it’s to cajole people into buying stuff.

I wonder if Ryanair is a special case. The boss of this company is notorious for capitalising on keeping their prices low (especially what appears to be their prices) but frankly I can see few other redeeming features. 

The service on their flights is notorious for being similarly stripped down to the minimum. And I believe staff also receive similar treatment (there was a newspaper report that suggested that they were not allowed to use company electricity to recharge their mobile phones!).

But would they be even more profitable if they paid more attention to their customer experience? Would the cost/benefit work out or have they a unique (but unattractive) business model? 

Does this have wider implications? What do you think?