Ryanair: a poorly-handled mess

Master of communications gets it spectacularly wrong

 

An administrative shambles that directly affected the travel plans of an estimated 300,000 Ryanair customers across Europe is expected to work itself out in the days ahead. But the episode will dent the airline’s reputation for punctuality and reliability and may have consequences for its growth plans. Compensation for passengers whose travel was disrupted has been estimated at €25 million. But days of uncertainty may cost considerably more in terms of business lost to other airlines.

It took three days – and a sharp fall in the value of its shares – for Ryanair’s long-serving chief executive, Michael O’Leary, to publicly apologise for the awful mess and to promise details of all the flights that would be affected. Earlier, the company had attempted to minimise the extent of consumer dislocation, caused by pilot rostering difficulties, by saying only two per cent of services had been affected and withholding further details.

Over the decades, O’Leary has delighted in making headlines at the expense of ministers and senior officials for their perceived failures in providing adequate airline supports and infrastructure. The motivation was invariably linked to Ryanair’s commercial interests. His constant theme of private sector efficiency is likely, in these circumstances, to bring wry smiles to the faces of his put-upon targets in Dublin and in Brussels.

Having provided details of affected flights and apologised repeatedly to customers, O’Leary would obviously hope for a return to business as usual. It may not be that simple. A loss of some pilots to Norwegian Air and ongoing negotiations with others about rostering arrangements required by the European Court of Justice may place further strain on Ryanair schedules. Relations between pilots and management are not good because of pressure to reduce costs, through indirect employment and zero-hours contracts. Such a confluence of challenging events is unfortunate. Ryanair is a major success story that helped to transform European aviation. But, for once, the master of communications has got it spectacularly wrong.

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