SO ENDURING is Ryainair’s niggardly reputation, that when it recently announced a new service aimed at business travellers, the Daily Mash, a satirical website, ran a story under the headline “Ryanair ‘business class’ just ticket for different airline”:
RYANAIR has introduced ‘business class’ by selling tickets for proper airlines. The budget carrier said its new level of service would include a free drink, landing within half a day’s drive of your chosen destination and being on a British Airways plane.
Ryanair’s customer service is second to all. It once charged a family €300 ($393) to print out five online boarding passes, after they had been unable to do so at their hotel (for good measure, Michael O’Leary, pictured, the airline’s boss, publicly described them as “stupid” when they complained). Its policing of the size of carry-on bags was once so ferocious it had to deny that check-in staff were given a bonus for each passenger they caught packing an extra centimetre—guilty flyers were charged £50 ($83) to check luggage into the hold. And Mr O’Leary once described the airline’s complaints procedure thus: “You’re not getting a refund so fuck off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”
Many people accepted spiky service as the inevitable counterside to low fares. The airline has loyal advocates just as it does haters. Measured by passenger numbers, it is second only to Lufthansa in Europe. It was, in short, a successful business model. But Mr O’Leary recently had an epiphany. He realised that the airline’s abrasive attitude meant it was losing out on business travellers. So he decided to put clear air between Ryanair’s nasty former self and a new customer-focused incarnation (a strategy Mr O’Leary summed up as “not unnecessarily pissing people off”).
Changing a company culture is not as simple as decreeing it. Ryanair has implemented softer new policies, such as allocating seats and being more lenient about carry-ons. It has also come up with ideas that appeal to business travellers, like flexible tickets, premium seating and priority boarding. But a company’s culture runs deeper than that. It still has the abrasive Mr O’Leary as the boss. It still has workers who have grown up in an aggressive firm, in which they were dismissed by Mr O’Leary as “lazy”, who also scoffed at the idea that its staff was the airline’s biggest asset. These are the people that will be needed to enact a turnaround. Deep-seated attitudes are bound to hang around.
At the same time, passengers have also got used to the company treating them in a dismissive way. Can they be expected to file away their past experiences just because the firm has announced it is now year zero? Gulliver is forced to fly Ryanair frequently (it is about the only airline that flies to the part of France in which I have family). My last trip, in August, was noticeably more pleasant. Yet I am not sure I am ready simply to forgive and forget all the nasty things it has done to me and my fellow passengers down the years. And that will also apply to work trips. I have only flown once with it on business—and that was after I had exhausted every other possibility. Put bluntly, I still hate the idea of it getting my money. I have yet to decide what suitable period of penance the airline must serve before this attitude changes.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.