Ben Ross: Get the public to love Ryanair – top job or mission impossible?
Something to declare
Ben Ross is Head of Travel at The Independent. He has worked for the paper for over a decade, and began reporting on travel in 2001. Before joining the travel desk full time, he ran The Independent's special projects department. He started his journalistic career at the BBC working for its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.
Saturday 12 October 2013
Last month, Ryanair chief excutive Michael O'Leary – who often seems to revel in his bad-guy status – announced a change of heart, albeit in typically robust language. "We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off," he said at the Irish airline's annual general meeting.
Given that Ryanair had just been voted worst brand for customer service by readers of Which? magazine, you might think he has quite a long way to go in his desire to kiss and make up with the travelling public. Nevertheless, the first steps have been taken. Last week, Ryanair advertised for a new sales and marketing director, to be responsible for "safety, customer service and low-fare messages".
I think we can all agree that the low-fare messages will continue to be delivered effectively. I for one can scarcely open a website at the moment without a targeted advert popping up to remind me of the company's £14.99 flights. Meanwhile, Ryanair's flight record is on a par with the safest airlines governed by EU regulations, as O'Leary has emphasised during the company's ongoing action against Channel 4's Dispatches programme, which claimed pilots had raised concerns over the airline's fuel policy.
You will, however, be unsurprised to know that the way the airline deals with its customers still constitutes a significant proportion of the travel desk's e-postbag here at The Independent on Sunday.
I flew with Ryanair from Stansted to Rome last weekend. (A tick in the box for all that online advertising.) You don't need me to explain how a low-cost carrier gets you on board its planes, so I won't. Suffice it to say that, yes, I'd slightly rather have an assigned seat than elbow my way down the aisle. And, yes, I'd prefer it if someone handed me a free coffee when I sat down. And yes, I was very glad I'd printed out two copies of my boarding pass, when I left one of them at the counter of Pret A Manger, prior to boarding.
Basically, I think, I was just mildly "pissed off", to use Mr O'Leary's term, that I didn't have enough spare cash to travel via the hush of a business-class lounge. However, Ryanair fitted my price-point perfectly (almost exactly £100 return). The triumphant bugle that marked "another on-time arrival from Ryanair" when we landed in Rome Ciampino was an added bonus.
Just as frequent as the comments to us that convey unhappiness are those which say: "You get what you pay for, so stop complaining." However, it's when things go wrong – when you don't get what you pay for, or don't think you've got it – that the key word "unnecessarily" comes into play.
One theme expressed by our readers is that the first action of many airlines faced by the delayed and dismayed is to put up a wall. Never apologise, never explain is often the mantra, when passengers simply want airlines to show a human face – and occasionally cut them some slack. Particularly when they are in extremis, it's good to treat people as people, rather than the old pilot's joke about "self-loading cargo".
Then again, what do I know? If you're up to the task, the deadline for applications is 5pm on 25 October.
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