Troubled Ryanair is ramping up its digital efforts as part of a business and culture transformation aimed at keeping up with technology - and its rivals, The Financial Times (FT) has reported.
The Irish airline has created Digital Labs - which it calls "a digital media lab with an airline attached" - aimed at overturning the firm's fortunes by overhauling its website, app development and strengthening its digital services.
The digital laboratory will be staffed by 160 people, raising the number of employees in digital jobs to 200. The lab staff will consist of analysts, data scientists, designers and software developers.
Digital Labs is Ryanair's attempt to get back in the game following a period of turbulence. The airline has issued two profit warnings and also faced a backlash over poor service, which forced the firm's chief executive Michael O'Leary to admit it was upsetting too many people.
The carrier's main problem, though, was that it failed to exploit the opportunities afforded by the smartphone age and sophisticated digital marketing. Ryanair instead continued to offer a "garish" website that made buying a ticket "an infuriating experience", the FT says.
In the meantime, rivals such as easyJet, British Airways, Vueling and Skyscanner took the opportunity to provide their customers with a better website and digital services.
John Hurley, chief technology officer at Ryanair, said: "The short term is catch-up. Then you draw level, which is going to be summer or October. But the ambition is to be a leader. We have all the cards, we just haven't played them properly."
The new digital laboratory is central to the firm's ambitious target of flying 160 million passengers by 2024 - rising from 89 million in the past year. The company has invested in 175 new aircraft to help meet this aim.
The digital lab will focus initially on bringing Ryanair up to speed with its competitors, including personalised home pages that differentiate between customers, fare comparisons, and a function that allows people to hold on to a ticket price they have previously found on the site. It will also work on the basics, such as improving web search results.
In the future the airline plans to overtake its rivals as an online travel platform. Inspired by the likes of TripAdvisor and Amazon, it will also offer an online forum where travellers can review their experiences, good and bad - a marked departure from the old Ryanair, which appeared at times disdainful of customer complaints.
The new direction for the firm has caught the attention of its biggest rival easyJet. Peter Duffy, head of marketing at Europe's second largest low-cost airline, responded: "It's crunch time for us. How do we continue taking leadership in the space?"
The firms will continue to battle it out in the digital space. easyJet recently piloted an app at Gatwick airport in London that uses location data to send gate and baggage belt information to mobile devices. The firm is planning to extend the app to the Apple Watch. However, Ryanair also has similar plans. A lead by any airline in digital products is unlikely to be maintained for long, Hurley commented.