The average stint of a UK transport secretary is under two years. Our man or woman in Pyongyang typically manages three years as British ambassador to North Korea. But Alejandra Ruiz has somehow borne the burden of the worst job in aviation for four full years.
Finally this summer the poor woman is finally leaving her role at Ryanair’s headquarters as head of press communications. The fact that Ms Ruiz has done a brilliant job at the worst of all possible times makes things even worse for her unfortunate successor, whoever that may be.
If you happen to be an “ambitious, driven and hardworking PR professional”, then it could be you.
Beware. If you are currently in the happy position of working outside the aviation industry, let me explain why it might be a good idea to stay there. The media and the public have a completely different relationship with airlines than they do with any other consumer-facing businesses.
You might imagine that getting millions of people where they need to be, with implausibly high standards of safety, at prices that are historically lower than they have ever been, might mean that airlines get a deservedly easy ride.
Far from it. Stuff inevitably happens in aviation all the time, because getting everything organised to allow 189 people fly from A to B requires the coordination of dozens of professionals and the cooperation of the weather. The fact that almost all the time planes depart and arrive pretty much on schedule is frankly miraculous.
Airlines, though, earn zero credit for getting things right. Even though passenger aviation is entirely commonplace, the public’s attention is easily seized by passengers behaving or dressing badly (often in the view of the airline, not the traveller).
A straightforward “go-around” where the pilots, abundantly cautious as always, decide to abandon their landing and make a routine manoeuvre for another approach, can be transformed into a “horror flight” by the media.
Even though Ryanair has flown more passengers than any other without a fatal accident, making it the safest in the world, the Irish airline is often unfairly linked with stories in which some kind of risk is implied.
Add the propensity of the Belarus air force to deploy Mig fighters to intercept routine Ryanair flights in search of dissidents onboard, and there is no escaping that this is a media frontline like no other. “A sense of humour, ability to think outside the box and a thick skin are essential,” the job description demands.
The successful (or, some would say, unsuccessful) candidate will “work closely with local market managers to ensure we are maximising exposure of Ryanair”, even though a lot of the time I bet those local market managers would prefer to be minimising exposure of the airline.
But what the winner will not be doing is dispensing largesse to journalists in the form of long-haul, business-class tickets to places even more alluring than Dortmund and East Midlands.
PR professionals for more glamorous airlines can at least leverage their position as arbiter of who gets free flights to demand a degree of civility – and expect themselves to get more exotic “airline benefits” than the new communications boss at Ryanair will earn.
If I haven’t yet done enough to talk you out of applying for the job, you may just detect a faint air of menace in the line: “This is a permanent position.” But as Ms Ruiz is demonstrating, parole is a possibility.
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