The Ryanair fiasco: how not to turn a crisis into a PR disaster

On Friday Ryanair announced it was cancelling 50 flights per day “to improve its system-wide punctuality”.

This disrupts passengers already booked onto flights away and due to return home. The decision affects flights immediately and upset customers have swamped the company’s phone lines looking for answers and solutions.

And their PR is a disaster:

1. It avoids responsibility by using the third person.
Ryanair’s woeful corporate statement.

Look at the headline, which appears on the corporate site. Ryanair to cancel flights to improve punctuality. Ryanair explains how Ryanair “announced this news”, as if they weren’t talking about themselves.

The rest of the article has a passive tone. If they’d used the proper pronoun, “we” they’d gain respect by showing they’re accountable.

2. Its message is wrong as it’s all about excuses.

They explain they’re cancelling flights because “its punctuality has fallen below 80%”, due to “ATC capacity and strikes, weather distribution” and “the impact of increased holiday allowance to staff”, which sounds like they’re either blaming staff or congratulating themselves for their generosity.

Are these legitimate excuses? Maybe, but they’re missing the point, namely:

3. It doesn’t say sorry.

The rest of the article expands on these excuses, and uses the word “apologise”, the word people who aren’t really sorry use. Readers see through this.

After the statement comes a quotation from Robin Kiely, Head of Communications, finding more ways to blame the ATC, the weather and annual leave, this time saying “we” apologise, this time “sincerely” to the “small number of passengers” affected (just 50 planes full per day).

4. They don’t even “apologise” on their customer website.
Their message, deep in the customer site.

Passengers might expect to easily find an explanation and apology on the main website. Instead, the message is buried in the “Travel Updates” page of the “Travel Information” sub-section of the “Help” section (third item).

It bluntly states flights have been cancelled and “your flight is operating as usual unless you receive an email”. Which is the same as saying “your flight is cancelled unless you don’t receive an email.

Still, this is relatively cordial compared with Chief Executive Michael O’Leary’s past gaffes, which include telling volcano affected passengers “you’re not getting a refund, so f*** off”.

Companies who mess up can gain more goodwill from customers by being direct, open and not scared to say sorry.

A TV commentator noted Ryanair are a “tight ship”. Their communication this weekend makes them look tight.

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