LONDON, April 6 (Reuters) - Ryanair will start offering connecting flights later this month, a senior executive said on Thursday, marking a break from its traditional point-to-point model as it looks to appeal to a broader spread of customers.
The Irish airline rose to become Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers by running a bare-bones operation shunning transfers due to their complexity and the risk they would keep planes on the ground for too long.
Chief Executive Michael O'Leary dropped his opposition in 2015 and said the airline would look to trial transfers as part of plans to expand beyond its traditional customer base.
Ryanair will roll out connections, initially between its own flights, at the end of April at Rome's Fiumicino Airport, Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobs said on Thursday. This would allow for example a journey from Dublin to Palermo, Sicily, which has no direct service, the company said.
"We'll start with Fiumicino, we'll start at the end of April, then other bases will follow, and this will be something that will be available across the network," Jacobs said.
"I think that this is going to be a big advantage given our network, it’ll be a big advantage for Ryanair getting more of the business travel market in Europe," he added.
Ryanair did not previously offer transfers for a number of reasons, including concerns that waiting for passengers and bags from connecting flights could delay take-offs and undermine the 25-minute turnaround that is key part of its business model.
It has also balked at the idea of compensating passengers for missed connections and taking responsibility for accommodating those waiting for the next available flight.
“It’s going to be a big deal for us," said Jacobs. "It’s a big deal for any low-cost airline, but it’s something that customers absolutely will love. It happens today informally through customers just doing their own version of self-connecting ... but this will allow you to do that direct."
Jacobs said the logistics of flight connections had been worked out, but did not give details. He said integration of IT systems was the only thing holding it back from offering connections to other airlines.
In January O'Leary said Ryanair hoped to start offering connections to long-haul flights from Norwegian Air Shuttle and Aer Lingus from May, but Jacobs said that was more likely be from September.
Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by David Holmes