Is Ryanair's latest scandal a controversy too far?

The budget airline has always courted bad press, but cancelling hundreds of flights is never going to win you any customers.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 18 Sep 2017

People love a good Ryanair story. ‘What’s that joker Michael O’Leary come up with now?’ they say as they prepare to be told about the airline CEO’s latest plan to slap a surcharge on fat passengers, make some travellers use ‘standing seats’ or charge for providing the air we breathe (I may have made one of those up). 

For most of its history the budget airline has actively courted this attention. For one thing, as they say, all publicity is good publicity. And for another, it underlines Ryanair’s core message: It might not give you a free meal or your pick of the best seats, but it will go to extreme lengths to keep costs low – and therefore provide you with as cheap a ticket as possible.

It certainly hasn’t deterred all that many passengers – last year it carried more than 100 million of them, chalking up a revenue of 6.5bn Euros (£5.75bn), more than double the 3bn Euros it managed in 2010.

More recently Ryanair has been keen to soften its image - in 2013 O’Leary said he wanted to stop ‘unnecessarily pissing people off.’ The airline has massively improved its formerly clunky website, introduced numbered seating and even created a ‘Business Plus’ class of ticket, giving those travelling for work more flexibility and a shot at some decent legroom.

But those efforts are in peril now, as Ryanair plans to cancel hundreds of flights over the next six weeks after it ‘messed up’ the planning for its pilots’ leave. On Friday it said it would be cancelling around 40-50 flights per day until the end of October in an effort to maintain levels of punctuality.

Though that represents just 2% of its total flights, the plans could leave hundreds of thousands of passengers unable to go on holiday or business trips. To add insult to injury, the airline has so far only told those effected passengers who were due to travel before this Thursday. Anyone else with a flight booked over the next six weeks will have to wait with bated breath.

The debacle will cost Ryanair a small fortune in compensation, as well as lost revenue as those travelling in the next six weeks decide to book with another airline. But the long-term cost could be to its reputation. MT imagines passengers are less willing to forgive this kind of inconvenience than O’Leary’s usual PR-hungry antics.

Image: Bene Riobó/Wikimedia

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