Ryanair's cancelled flights, its handling of the affair, and who's really to blame

This is hardly the first scandal involving the airline, and yet customers keep flying with it

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Monday 18 September 2017 16:33
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Ryanair has sparked anger over its cancelled flights, but people will still fly with it
Ryanair has sparked anger over its cancelled flights, but people will still fly with it

Do Ryanair's customers bear at least some of the blame for the current scandal over cancelled flights, and the company's handling of it?

The airline is facing a growing storm after it revealed plans to cancel 2,000 over the next month and half, ostensibly as a result of mucking up pilot holiday allocations, along with demands to provide better information on which flights are facing the axe.

It is shaping up to be one of the worst public relations crises the company has suffered, and there have been a few.

But while Ryanair surely deserves some of the brickbats it is getting, an uncomfortable fact is that consumers aren't entirely blame free here.

For years Ryanair sought to offer the lowest, or close to the lowest, headline prices in the industry.

To do this, while still turning a handsome profit, the airline cut costs to the bone.

It removed any and all frills, and imposed charges for everything it possibly could. At one point it even considered a fee for using the toilet, having cut the number on each plane to make room for more seats.

The extra costs imposed when booking a ticket were once described by no less than the Office of Fair Trading as “puerile”.

And yet still people kept flying with Ryanair.

The airline has often given the impression that its customers are an inconvenience. Five minutes on Google will reveal a sorry parade of outrages involving the way they have been treated in the past. It’s not as if the world is unaware of how the company operates.

And yet still people keep flying with Ryanair.

Its attitude towards workers and unions is bad enough for several big European pension schemes to have pulled their investments in the business.

And yet still people keep flying with Ryanair.

So successful has the model been that a small Irish airline has risen to the extent that it could justifiably brand itself the “world’s favourite airline”, as indeed it did when it pinched one of BA’s favourite slogans.

This has influenced the direction of an entire industry. Its rivals found no way to beat it, so they joined it, albeit without some of the rough edges.

There have always been alternatives to Ryanair. There still are alternatives. Sometimes people might have to pay a little more to make use of them. The number willing to do that, however, has proved to be very limited. So Ryanair, and the Ryanair model, has won out time and again.

After this latest scandal, you’d expect the company to take take a hit. It has in the past, occasionally even tweaking its policies, as it did in 2013 when it revamped the website, and dealt with some of the things customers found most annoying.

Perhaps a few people might even think twice before buying their tickets. But most won't. They haven't in the past.

So after the dust has settled, and the company has paid out some compensation, and said it's sorry, you know what?

Nothing much will change.

People will keep flying with Ryanair.

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