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Will Ryanair Really Offer $10 Transatlantic Flights?

Periodically, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary promises/threatens to extend his brand of low-fare air service to the U.S. and Canada. For a while, he hoped to get into the market by buying out Aer Lingus, but that move has been thwarted by government opposition. Now, instead of acquiring Aer Lingus, O’Leary is talking about expanding the carrier independently—and he even said that transatlantic fares should start at $10.

But according to O’Leary, Ryanair would need a fleet of at least 30 widebody planes before setting up a successful transatlantic service, and the planes wouldn’t be available at good prices for a long time. However, this might be somewhat of a smoke screen. Ryanair has hundreds of new Boeing 737s on order for delivery through the decade, including new super-efficient MAX versions; those 737MAX planes have ample range to fly nonstop from Ryanair’s Shannon, London/Stansted, and Continental bases to eastern U.S. and Canadian coasts, and the Midwest. Ryanair could be here sooner than you think.

Presumably, a transatlantic Ryanair service would look much like its current operations: tight seating, minimal service, fees for everything but the seat. At one point, this was something of a unique business model, but U.S. and Canadian airlines are going in the same direction. Ryanair says it would also offer a business class, but that, too, would presumably be a (relatively) low-fare, bare-bones approach to premium seating.

Will the flights really be as cheap as $10? O’Leary has frequently claimed that he plans someday to offer seats for free and make money on just ancillary fees. Nobody in the business takes him seriously. It’s like the pay toilets idea—he knows how to generate headlines.

On the other hand, it’s possible that Ryanair could offer fares starting at $10—for maybe one or two seats. But in the U.S., this would run afoul of Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations that require airlines to offer a “reasonable” number of seats at any fare they promote; reasonable usually means about 10 percent or so. I doubt Ryanair would sell that many seats for $10, except maybe as a very short-lived introductory promotion. 

O’Leary has a history of generating publicity—as much bad as good—with outlandish proposals about fares and fees. Yet evidence indicates that O’Leary is serious about coming to North America, and his airline will soon have resources to do it. Keep watching—but don’t count on $10 fares any time soon.

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(Photo: Michael O’Leary via Shutterstock)

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