Not at the Moment Mr. Ryan
Ryanair has changed the face of air travel in Europe – for better or for worse. What they do is deliver to their passengers exactly “what it says on the box”. They have brought air travel to those who could not previously afford it – many in Bulgaria would testify to that – and they have brought prosperity to regions across Europe by connecting the previously ‘’un-connected’’ with the rest of the outside world.
Where they have always fallen short is in their arrogance and attitude of “don’t give a toss”’ towards business ethics within the industry, they function in, as well as in the service attitude towards their clients. In the past year or so, the penny has sunk in with their shareholders now realize that you can’t antagonize the fare paying public forever, and get away with it. The strides they have made in this past year to change the public perception of them, should not go unnoticed. Yet almost embedded in their corporate culture is that attitude of “we don’t give a toss what the law says and we will do what we want”.
Of course the law is the law, and Ryanair will argue that they have always followed the law, or is it that they have followed the laws as they have interpreted them? It was almost a game of cat and mouse with the EU lawmakers, chasing the tails of Ryanair to ensure the laws of selling, operating within aviation were followed, and that they were clearly understood. This invariably meant a fudge whereby Ryanair would get a slap and a warning for misdeeds, and the world carried on regardless.
The recent farce surrounding Ryanair and the inadvertent oversight that their pilots might need to take their holidays before the year end – when the new service contracts kick in- emphasizes the fact that scant attention was ever paid to its own administration; the function of business administration perhaps viewed as an unnecessary cost and one that can be stripped out of the equation. Ryanair by its own measure considers itself to be lean and mean. Yet any international organization who makes such an elementary blooper, as forgetting to schedule key employee holidays, i.e., the pilot’s holidays, would probably find their whole board of directors removed from their posts and their share rating plunge. Amateurism would be an appropriate word to be used on this occasion.
This though is only the start of the current nightmare journey for Ryanair. The word retribution might be an appropriate choice if we place ourselves in the shoes of both the EU and the UK Civil Aviation Authority. At the heart of the issue now, is not the absurdity of cocking up the pilot’s holidays and being forced to cancel thousands of flights that affect 400,000 travelers – this in itself is a farce – but the real crux is the attitude Ryanair had towards their amateurism.
EU laws dictate what an airline is and is not responsible for, and what compensation and actions they should take in the event of any cancelled flights. Ryanair historically have never encouraged (sic) people to claim against them, and prospective claimants would describe the barriers artificially placed in their way. Indeed, obtaining such information from Ryanair in the first instance was the first challenge. The airlines communication with affected passengers, at best, was awful if indeed there was any communication at all.
To communicate means more staff and more staff means expenses. In the current saga, the lack of adequate organization within the airline meant that passengers had no information, and no idea which flights would be cancelled, requiring passengers to constantly ‘try check’ websites for more information. Even our own staff were affected, and despite seeing that the flight had in fact been cancelled, it took an eternity for this to be actually communicated directly to the person affected.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority saw their chance and launched into Ryanair with an enforcement action for “persistently misleading passengers with inaccurate information regarding their rights”. Under EU law 261, airline passengers’ rights are detailed with regards to what compensation they are entitled to for flights that are cancelled, the time frame this has to be paid by the airline, the methods and time frames by which the airline has to communicate these details to affected passengers, and finally, the rights a traveler has to be re-routed by the airline cancelling a flight.
At the heart of the matter was the aforementioned difficulties passengers were having, not only claims against Ryanair, but also in the communication being fed to them – which means it wasn’t! More importantly, the CAA also reminded the airline it was obliged to re-route passengers with other airlines. This will have raised the blood pressure of the Ryanair’s executives who never before have been forced to do this; re-booking to them meant re-booking on their own flights the next time a seat was available, and that could be weeks away. The enforcement went further, forcing the airline to pay all necessary expenses of affected passengers such as hotels, meals and transfers to other airports. In the past the airline just laughed at this.
Why suddenly did Ryanair yield to pressure? The answer is probably remarkably simple. They may have been fines multiple times, the amount for their ineptness, estimated to be around 25m GBP, indeed they could have been shut down. From a PR standpoint, it will be interesting if Ryanair can turn this around in their favor. Maybe a long promotion of free flights or flights for 1 Euro will bring their credibility back? Maybe they never had any credibility anyway and people use them because they are cheap?
What this episode has done without question, has brought Ryanair into the same game as other rival airlines, in the way they are now expected to service clients, their approach to any affected passenger, and one would hope that from now on, they will follow the established rules and regulations, in the same manner as their peers do. The battle is in establishing a precedent and that precedent has now been set, because Ryanair created the perfect storm for their own undoing.
By Mark Thomas Managing Director HRG Bulgaria