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Can Ryanair Be Trusted?

Posted in Business and Law, and Travel

You have to love and hate Ryanair—personally I’ve never had a problem flying with them, but recently with the announcement of the cancellation of numerous flights (50 per day) until the end of October, this will affect thousands of unsuspecting customers. The existence of Ryanair has allowed the masses to travel cheaply to places that may have been unaffordable in the past, and for people who never thought they could afford a flight. For that reason, you have to love Ryanair for breaking down the barriers that made air travel for the privileged in the past. However, it came at a cost and there was non of the luxury you get when flying with other airlines such as the free nuts and drinks, but people were prepared to do a bit of DIY to save money. It makes sense, but perhaps Ryanair have gone a little too far? There was talk of having to pay to use the bathrooms on board a flight, but that was quickly flushed down the drain, but this recent spate of cancellations due to poor management isn’t acceptable from a business perspective, so can Ryanair ride out this disaster?

They sold penny fares plus tax in the early days, but you knew what you were getting for that cut price flight; hand luggage only, print out your own boarding pass (or pay to get one at check in), and no free drinks or meals on board. These measures saved the airline money and time, but have things caught up with them now? The CEO, Michael O’Leary came out and said the cancellations were due to weather and traffic control issues. No one sane actually believed him, mainly because the flights hadn’t actually taken place yet, so unless he is a super psychic it’s a huge fib. Besides that, countless other airlines are flying at the same time, and from the same airport so how come they are okay? You didn’t manage to talk your way of that one Michael.

The real reason soon became apparent—cabin crew and pilots need to take their annual holiday. No, that wasn’t quite it, because a well-run company ensures staff don’t all take their holiday at the same time. It’s running a company 101, and basic HR management, and if they can’t get that right, do you really want to trust them with your life on a plane? A couple of days later, more revelations came to light. Out of the 400 pilots, apparently 140 have left to go to the rival airline Norwegian. Here is where the story comes a little dicey, where O’Leary claims pilots left without giving notice, which left him short staffed. Simple, hire more pilots, but there is a problem—no one wants to work for Ryanair when they treat the staff so shabbily.

Cue another way O’Leary thinks he can solve the matter. Apparently he is going to pay the pilots not to take holiday because he can (he owns the company and ignores the employment and contract laws). Not such a great way to keep your staff happy is it, and surely by now he should realize he needs to keep as many pilots as he can rather than to push them elsewhere. So now the pilots say they will go on strike! Legally staff can’t be forced not to take their holiday and be paid instead, but in most contracts it is possible as long as both parties agree. Meanwhile, thousands of customers are lumbered with either an outbound or return flight being cancelled, and have found there is no compensation. They await news of whether their flights will be cancelled or not, and apparently not all cancellations have been confirmed by the airline. Maybe more pilots are leaving and they will have half a workforce? There’s little point in having a hotel and a return flight from Venice when your flight to get there is cancelled, and many have discovered the EU regulations the ‘remainers’ cling to doesn’t cover them either because they are classed as separate flights and not a return ticket.

So what recourse do customers have? Customers have been receiving texts and emails literally hours before their flight was due, informing them of a cancellation. That’s plain and simple poor management. The much quoted EU regulation 261 has been exercised, but comes with restrictions. If you are informed up to 14 days before the flight then there is no compensation, but an offer of an alternative flight only. The regulation only offers guidance on how and when compensation should be made if a flight is delayed. However, Ryanair are refusing to transfer customers to other airlines, even though the regulations state that they are obliged to. I feel if there are no alternative flights within 24 hours then an alternative flight should be paid for, or hotels and food made available until there is a flight available. That is if the passenger is not in their home country at least. You don’t need a law to tell a company to do that if they wish to remain in business. They do have a duty of care and customer goodwill is priceless.

The problem is Michael O’Leary wasn’t honest at the start, so there is little trust in what he says. This was the fault of whoever was managing the company, who was doing a dismal job. Can people ever trust the airline again? Those who had booked flights for events such as weddings, can’t just pick another date. In the day of the independent traveler, those who booked car hire and hotels may struggle to get refunds, and many are paying the extra to find a reliable flight to get them to their destination instead of losing out. Plans, family gatherings, and holidays have all been disrupted and ruined simply because the boss treated his staff poorly and who left, and couldn’t recruit replacements. That’s the crux of the matter.

As it stands the compensation could cost them €20 million at least, if only he had treated his staff better…but it’s not as if this was a sudden thing. The company has recently introduced more changes to cut costs and to make more money by charging for allocated seats, and priority boarding. However, even though people let the sub standard service go because of the cheap flights, where do you draw the bottom line? A decent level of service is expected regardless of how much was paid surely?

Will people still use Ryanair after this PR disaster? Looking at the recent airline PR mishaps (BA and the remote servers that were down due to outsourcing, or United who forced a passenger off because they wanted the seat for a crew member, and Korean Air scandal where the owner’s daughter forced a plane back because the staff didn’t serve her nuts properly) people choose whom they wish to fly with, and not purely due to price. When companies treat their staff and passengers with contempt, and then try to cover up and lie about it, then people will look elsewhere. Social media can destroy a reputation quickly, and no EU regulation can do anything about that. For those who want to chant Brexit and that the EU regulations have saved them, it’s not necessarily the case because the UK can draft their own stricter regulations that would protect passengers. What many don’t realize is that the regulations are also subject to the domestic laws, therefore each country will handle compensation and time scales for claims differently. As for Ryanair, it’s an Irish company and will be still be in the EU, so Brexit makes no difference at all to them. They will still have to abide with the EU regulations.

As for me, I am conflicted as to whether I would fly with Ryanair again purely because I don’t wish a company that treats people so badly to make any profit from me. Maybe if there was no choice, or if the flight was so cheap both ways I would consider it, but it won’t be my first choice, but a last resort. Customer service matters and other budget airlines such as Norwegian and Easy Jet can only benefit from this PR and staffing disaster. A company is only as good as the team and staff that work there, that is if O’Leary can find enough staff and keep them. As I write this, another low cost airline has got into trouble, as Monarch Airlines has gone into administration. Perhaps the era of budget fares has stalled?

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