When ‘sorry’ isn’t enough
It’s hard to remember a bigger public relations cock up in recent history than Ryanair’s stunt of cancelling 40 to 50 flights a day for the next six weeks. For a company which has always considered itself to be publicity savvy, this was a misjudgement of monumental proportions.
It seems that they thought they could get away with it by playing down the effects. They claimed it was done to ‘ improve its system-wide punctuality which has fallen below 80% in the first two weeks of September’ caused by ‘a backlog of crew leave which must be allocated before December 31’. Amongst other things the low-cost operator had also been affected by ‘adverse weather (thunderstorms)’ (!).
According to spokesman Robin Kiely, all they had to do was ‘cancel less than 2% of our flying programme over the next six weeks’.
This would ‘ improve the operational resilience of our schedules and restore punctuality to our annualised target of 90%’.
It all seemed very simple. A few cancellations (2%) and punctuality goes up 10%. Everybody’s happy…… or not.
Mr Kiely’s glib explanation did not set out in black and white what his company was doing. And this was ruining people’s holidays and causing untold stress and expense for its paying customers. Tens of thousands of people were being punished simply because they had chosen to fly with Ryanair.
It is obvious that last week when they went public with their ill-thought-out plan, they had not envisaged the backlash that would occur. And that is the surprising thing. How could they not foresee the damage that this would do to their company?
In the days of Facebook, social media and the internet, it is impossible to pull a stunt like this without taking a grievous body blow.
Pretty much every media outlet going was reporting the story and the headlines were getting worse for Ryanair.
‘Dad’s birthday holiday ruined’; ‘Ryanair’s stock is tumbling’; ‘Ryanair facing 100 million bill over cancelled flights’; etc. And they were getting hammered across the board by the general public who were disgusted by the audacity and stupidity of this wealthy multinational company and its uncaring actions.
CBN is not a massive media outlet but in just a couple of days more than 57,000 people had read a short report we carried on our Facebook page, with nearly 250 commenting on the actions of the budget airline. I haven’t checked the reaction on national newspaper websites but it easy to image them getting 10 times more hits. And, of course, all the comments are negative. People are stating that will never fly with Ryanair again because ‘they cannot be trusted’. Whether the casual commentator will remember in six months’ time when the next sale is on remains to be seen. However, Ryanair can be certain that they will have lost the custom of the tens of thousands of passengers who have had their flights cancelled on a whim.
In my experience people will refuse to use an airline once they have had a bad experience with a company. I have had a number of these since I’ve been living in Spain. There are two airlines I will never fly with again and a third which I avoid like the plague. Ryanair isn’t one of them.
However, I am one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have a flight booked with Ryanair in the next six weeks. I’m going on holiday for a week to the UK. Strange choice for an autumn break I know - but there again I’m a bit of a strange person. I will be waiting anxiously to see if I receive an email from Mr O’Leary, telling me that I’m one of the 2%. If I am, then I will join all the others who have had expensive holidays ruined. And Ryanair will go on my blacklist and I will look for more reliable flyers to hand my ‘hard-earned’ cash to in the future.
Ryanair check-in desks at Alicante airport