Dear Stephen McNamara, Head of Communications, Ryanair...

23 March 2010

Dear Stephen,

We've been enjoying your email exchange with the American blogger David Parker Brown at AirlineReporter.com. Because Brown's blog is syndicated to the Seattle PI, his article about Ryanair caught your attention. In your latest email, you attempt to correct Brown by - and let's be honest here - pouring an awful lot of PR horseshit down his throat.

Ryanair does ‘understand’ social media and that blogs are generally based on opinion (which is why we generally ignore them – unless they appear somewhere like the Seattle PI).

So true, Stephen! So to break with tradition, and since Brown asks for feedback from people who have flown Ryanair, we're going to mix facts with our opinions, as we pick through your latest critique of Brown's post:

1. "They provide sub-par customer service (and are almost proud of it)" Wrong. Ryanair has the best on-time record, the least lost bags and the fewest cancelations of any major European airline.

Sorry Stephen, but immediately I have to call bullshit on you. And we've barely got started!

Customer service isn't about simply satisfying a company's own operational targets. The customer benefits in the situations you mention, but it's in Ryanair's best interests to address these areas - doing so keeps costs down. Customer service is about heightening the consumer experience before and after the flight, as well as during it.

2. "charge for everything" Wrong. Ryanair allows passenger to avoid paying for any of the services that are factored into the cost of high fare tickets, the average fare with Ryanair (which includes a 25KG baggage allowance) is just €32 -- compared to the next cheapest airline at €60.

If you can explain how to avoid the cost of online check-in, at £5 per person per flight (for which the customer has to print their own boarding passes with Ryanair's advertising on them), we're all ears, Stephen. As for the credit card charges - you hardly make it easy to avoid them, do you? A pre-paid Mastercard, hello? Ryanair is charged for processing credit card purchases per transaction, not per person, so charging £10 per passenger is utterly disproportional.

While we're on the subject of your online booking system, why does the website pre-select one item of hold luggage per passenger? Why is 'no travel insurance required' not pre-selected? How does making the consumer jump through hoops - or increasing the probability of them making a mistake - constitute good customer service?

3. "fly to smaller airports." Wrong. In some cases we do, but we also fly to many main airports (e.g. Berlin, Edinburgh, London and Madrid etc) and passengers, especially those who travel frequently realise that it is more comfortable and quicker to travel through smaller airports -- while it also allows for cheaper fares which passengers would walk over hot coals to get to.

Stephen, really. Ask somebody attempting to reach Barcelona with Ryanair how comfortable and quick it is to travel through smaller airports. It's neither, and it's more expensive. You don't fly to Heathrow, you fly to the smaller London airports. It's not wrong, it's simply fair comment.

4. "but are one of the most popular airlines in the world" Wrong (but almost correct). We are the world's favourite airline per IATA statistics which show that Ryanair carried more international scheduled passengers than any other airline last year.

You need to learn the difference between popular and favourite. Passengers choosing to fly with you makes Ryanair a popular airline, but not necessarily their favourite. When I flew with Ryanair to Gothenburg last year, it wasn't because Ryanair was my favourite airline - it was because my favourite airline didn't fly to that destination.

5. "They charge customers to call their customer service hotline." Wrong. We don't have a customer service hotline; passengers can contact customer service in writing only.

Perhaps he's referring to the 0871 number for new bookings and general enquiries that you charge 10p per minute for, or the 0905 priority assistance number you charge £1 per minute for?

If not, why don't you have a customer service number? That's the very definition of sub-par customer services, right there. 'Writing only'? Are you communicating to the world from the 18th Century?

6. "and are well known for almost never giving refunds." Wrong. While our fights are non-refundable we do provide refunds in rare cases of weather related cancelation (per EU 261 legislation) and in cases where they are entitled to a refund of government taxes and charges. However, if a passenger is looking for a refund because their cat/dog/grandmother is sick they are not entitled to one, and won't get one -- per the Terms and Conditions they agreed to.

A heart as big as the ocean, that's Ryanair. No, wait.

7. "Yet, they provide super low fares and passengers keep flying them." Correct, almost - it should really say and an increasing number of passengers fly them -- Ryanair continues to grow thanks to our low fares while other airlines' passenger numbers continue to collapse.

The latest figures from the Civil Aviation Authority would seem to tell a different story about other airlines. Difficult for the consumer to tell up from down, eh?

The thing is, Stephen, Ryanair isn't bad at what it does. It provides cheap flights and there are bargains to be had, it flies to destinations other airlines don't and for that, we like Ryanair. We even like some of your puerile stunts, which place you top-of-mind above other airlines.

The issue for most people is how much their travel costs them. Price sells, not service - we get it. The problem is that you get it a little too well; Ryanair is fully aware that low-cost fares are something "passengers would walk over hot coals to get to", and that realisation is used to justify the unjustifiable; ludicrous charges, minimal customer services and an inflexible, cynical attitude. Some people are happy to overlook this and fly with Ryanair. Some people aren't.

So let's just man up and be honest, Stephen - some people disagree with the way Ryanair treats customers, and that doesn't look like changing any time soon.

TOPICS:   Travel

16 comments

  • Crisp
    Just RE your customer service comment, I must say the only difference I have no noticed between Ryanair and BA/KLM etc is that you dont get free Tuc biscuits and juice with Ryanair. But then, thats hardly worth the £90 I usually save. Then again, you might really like Tuc biscuits, so it's all a matter of opinion I suppose!
  • technobabble
    Good story. Couldn't follow all of it but I think I see where your coming from. And yes, I like horses too
  • higgy
    Crisp, wonder what would happen if your kids or wife were critically ill in hospital while you were away? I'd bet my house that BA/KLM wouldnt try shafting for a full fare to get home.
  • capatanoleary
    Great article! So *apart* from... Credit card Booking Fees Check in fees Excess baggage fees Advanced seating charges Overpriced food Scratch cards Mobile phone calls Assorted ancilliary charges Insurance and wheelchair levy Excess charges for changing No refunds, ever Treating customers like shit Treating staff like shit Charging staff for training, uniforms etc Use of remote airports Aggressive tactics with competition (moving in to established routes, undercutting, driving off competition, reducing service, increasing fares) Undending focus on cost and profitability, above *everything* else I think Ryanair are f***ing great. Smoke that O'Leary.
  • andyofyarm
    Ryanair is an outrage they should be banned from the UK and only British Airways should be allowed.
  • andyofyarm
    Oh fuck I just had a mild stoke and fused my brain.What I meant to say was ryanair are a fucking miracle. Thank you ryanair for giving me 10 years of cheap cheap flights to destinations shit BA wouldn't serve and from my local airports that toss BA wouldn't even go near,thank you for not going on strike,never delaying me more than a hour,not crashing and not losing my luggage.
  • CompactDistance
    Play by their rules and you get around ridiculously cheap. Thanks, Ryanair.
  • Crisp
    Higgy, actually EXACTLY that happened when I had to fly home with KLM from Amsterdam about a month ago. I had paid for a return flight (£90), but had to go home 2 days early (family emergency) and they said if I wanted to fly out with them at all before my return leg it would cost me just shy of £200. :/
  • riverScrap
    Seriously, I get your anger at Ryanair, but get over it. Noone has a gun to your head - if you don't like 'em, take advantage of living in a free capitalist society and GIVE YOUR CUSTOM TO SOMEONE ELSE. Yeah they take an abudance of cheap shots at everyone else in the industry, and yeah they irk a few (careless) passengers who don't bother to do their homework before booking... but so what? Banks rip people off. Politicians lie to voters. Supermarkets feed us processed garbage that isn't fit for a dog. We live in a woefully imperfect society and - if Money4Gold has taught us anything - we should understand that mornons are first in line to get shafted. If Ryanair didn't screw them, someone else would. I really don't see the point of this diatribe (yours, not mine :P). I'll take every opportunity to slate Ryanair when they break the law, be it relating to consumer rights or to libel. But for running a profitable company? For mounting a defence when some blogger lays into them? No - fair does to them.
  • Paul S.
    riverScrap - Brown hardly 'laid into' Ryanair. If Brown was guilty of distorting the facts, then McNarmara hardly put him right, instead choosing to spin the truth even further. That's his job, but it shouldn't be an issue if somebody cares to point it out that a company is choosing to spin the truth in its own self-interest. You're absolutely right about the state of the world, but I'm not sure any of that excuses businesses that choose to operate in such a way. All we're saying in the piece is that Ryanair should stop pissing and moaning when they're criticised - not everyone is going to love them if they choose to operate the way they do. I see by your email address you have a vested interest in matters like this - I'd hope your website offers a more substantial consumer experience when booking flights.
  • riverScrap
    It does I assure you ;) But the online flight price comparison industry is a very different market to the airline industry. We didn't lose $11 billion last year - Ryanair's competitors did. And just FYI there's no vested interest specifically with Ryanair. They're not currently one of our advertising partners and we don't take money from them (though we do include their flights in our search results, as all flight comparison websites worth their salt do - because they're the cheapest!).
  • Shooter M.
    "WE didn't lose $11 billion"? Who is this non vested interest "we"?
  • James
    this is an excellent well written piece. i like it.
  • Lee
    Ryanair, BCP and East Midlands Airport conspired to ruin my main holiday last year. I take my right and choose to never use them again. Ryanair, you are truly are a set of cnuts
  • vacations
    I am tired of hearing about airlines' problems and how some companies are experiencing profit losses. I just want them to fly on time and stop causing chaos in the skies. I regularly travel on business with BA and I must say, usually the service is great. But other airlines such as Ryanair are frequently late and I have had a number of vacations ruined thanks to their mishandling of my luggage. Many of the lastminute sites listed on www.dozenvacation.com offer better deals than the airlines' direct websites. I just wish that the airline operators can limit their delays so passengers like me do not face any more travel misery.
  • Marcene P.
    Apple now has Rhapsody as an app, which is a good begin, however it's currently hampered by the shortcoming to retailer regionally in your iPod, and has a dismal 64kbps bit rate. If this adjustments, then it can somewhat negate this advantage for the Zune, however the 10 songs per month will nonetheless be a big plus in Zune Cross' favor.

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