No one likes us, we do care

No one likes us, we do care

27 August 2014 | Lloyd Hughes

Ryanair hasn’t had a particularly good track record when it comes to PR. I wouldn’t call its main man, Michael O’Leary, a marmite figure, as there’s certainly not much love there. In many people’s eyes though he is definitely akin to a brown substance. And if you chose to, you could probably smear it on toast. However that’s not to say you’d want to. To put it mildly then, O’Leary isn’t well regarded by his customers.

Stating that Ryanair hasn’t had a good track record when it comes to PR doesn’t mean that they haven’t had a good amount of publicity. Far from it. It’s just that the publicity, generally speaking, hasn’t been very nice.

In the words of O’Leary himself, “we’ll adopt any measure as long as it generates f**king cheap publicity.” And that’s the key word: cheap. Announcing that you’re considering starting to make ‘people spend a pound to spend a penny’ with coin slots on toilet doors is certainly going to generate tabloid inches.

For many years this approach worked for the budget airline. Outrage at its less than customer friendly approach to its services was counterbalanced by the low cost of its flights. If you could shave a hundred pounds off the cost of your holiday, disgust at the prospect of paying a quid to visit the loo didn’t last long.

I do quite admire someone who not only thinks ‘sod you all’ in the privacy of their own head, but also actually says it. Michael O’Leary is a man in that mould. But he’s been rather quiet of late. After Ryanair experienced a dip in profits for the first time in five years last year, the master of mouthing off has slipped into the shadows somewhat as Ryanair takes a different approach to its public image.

Today I saw that the firm was introducing a ‘Business Plus’ service to its offering. This seems to be where the cost of a ticket is more, however it includes a bigger baggage allowance (up to 20kg), access to seats at the front of the plane (same as every other seat, just with quicker exiting) and the ability to change a booked flight’s time/route free of charge up to 40 minutes before take-off. The airline usually charges £75 for extra baggage, £15 to reserve a seat at the front of the plane and up to £90 to change flight arrangements.

The new service doesn’t appear to be groundbreaking. As our resident Irish PR said, “It’s like they’re treating passengers like people for the first time.” Which suggests that she’s not too impressed by the gesture.

It remains to be seen whether anyone else will be. Ryanair’s new ‘customer-friendly’ approach has a lot of ground to make up on its rivals. But now it seems that they’re generating press coverage by improving the customer experience rather than making it worse. I wonder how long it’ll last.