Ryanair’s biggest PR blunders

Ryanair has hit the headlines again recently. A staff holiday allocation mix-up has left the low-cost carrier with a pilot shortage, which has consequently forced the cancellation of over 18,000 flights over the winter months.

However, the plucky Irish airline has a track record of bouncing back from PR disasters, and will hope to do so again.

Here’s a round-up of the 20 biggest Ryanair boo-boos so far…

20) Denmark debacle

In 2015, the working conditions of Ryanair’s Danish employees came into question. Following the encouragement given by the Mayor of Copenhagen, union members decided to go on strike. The staff walkout was accompanied by a passenger boycott and the airline decided to terminate their Danish operations altogether by moving their bases elsewhere.

19) Misleading TV adverts

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have recently banned a Ryanair TV commercial following complaints from viewers. They chose to take action in order to prevent customers being tricked into paying higher prices than those advertised by the budget flight operator.

The televised ad, first seen in October 2017, contravened three broadcast advertising rules in total after misleading viewers with on-screen text stating, “Fly from £19.99” and “Summer 2017 on sale now”, when the summer period was in fact excluded from the £19.99 seat promotion. It’s not hard to see why many objected to the ambiguous nature of the advert; it clearly led viewers to believe that Summer 2017 flights were available for £19.99, when they were not.

Ryanair contested the ASA ruling by arguing that the “Summer 2017” statement was clearly secondary to the price message because it appeared on screen separately at the end of the commercial. The ‘no frills’ carrier was also keen to point out the ‘excluded dates’ disclaimer that was present throughout the advert in question. However, it failed to convince the advertising watchdog who concluded their assessment by stating, “While we noted that the £19.99 offer was qualified by small text stating the start and end dates for the promotion, we considered that, given the conjunction of the offer with the claim ‘Summer 2017 on sale now’, the qualification was not sufficiently prominent to correct the overall impression that summer 2017 flights were included in the sale.”

The airline wasn’t exactly gracious in the face of defeat but did promise to tread more carefully in the future: "Ryanair disagrees with this ASA ruling, but has taken note of it in relation to future ads".

18) Standing ‘seats’

For several years, Ryanair has flirted with the idea of increasing plane capacity by replacing seats with standing areas.

However the low-cost airline was denied permission to run test flights with prototype standing berths, straps and handrails in 2012.

The application, which entailed converting a Boeing 737-800 to feature 15 seat rows and a 10-row standing section, was rejected by regulators. For many, the idea has always seemed ludicrous, but Ryanair chief, Michael O’Leary has remained typically blasé – when asked how the concept would work, he simply replied; “"Same as on the London Underground, handrails and straps.".

To this day, Ryanair continue to push for standing-only planes, and O’Leary is confident that significant amendments will be made to regulations in the next few years.

The airline believe it would be a win-win situation which would see average plane capacities increase from 189 passengers to 230; it would also allow customers to take advantage of lower fares (it is estimated that standing passengers would be saving around 80% on the cost of a seated ticket).

17) ‘Pay-as-you-go’ toilets

Ryanair’s CEO seems to enjoy teasing the public with his outlandish ideas…

In a 2009 interview with BBC Breakfast, O’Leary casually suggested that on-board toilet charges could materialise in the future: “One thing we have looked at is maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in the future. If someone wanted to pay £5 to go to the toilet I would carry them myself. I would wipe their bums for a fiver.”

Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary looking utterly bizarre

Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary is always on the lookout for novel ways to cut costs at the budget airline.

It was almost certainly said in jest, but it was taken literally by many onlookers and further added to the negative perception of the unorthodox cost-cutting measures that the carrier already employs.

16) Long-haul U-turn

In March 2015, Ryanair had to retract an announcement that was sent to the Financial Times Newspaper via text message.

The message, which immediately sparked a media frenzy, outlined Ryanair’s plans regarding long-haul services to the United States.

Just a few days later the statement was retracted and a new contradictory announcement was made by Ryanair bosses. The revised message insisted that there were no immediate plans for a transatlantic service.

The mistake was certainly embarrassing for the Dublin-based carrier, but it was quick to dismiss the matter when asked if an internal investigation would take place in order to track down those responsible for the blunder: "A mistake was made in a text message to the FT, this has been corrected and that is the end of the matter."

15) O’Leary blasts Boeing

After a public squabble with the Boeing, O’Leary declared that Ryanair would not be ordering any new planes from the US-based aircraft manufacturer; “Boeing had their chance. Eventually you lose interest, dealing with a bunch of idiots who can’t make a decision. They are a bunch of numpties out in Seattle.”

14) Racy campaign lands Ryanair in hot water

A 2011 marketing stunt backfired spectacularly when an advert commissioned by the airline was banned by the ASA.

The press advertisements displayed the headline, “Red Hot Fares & Crew” and were accompanied by raunchy images taken from the airline’s much maligned ‘Girls of Ryanair’ calendar.

Ryanair representatives insisted that the female crew members featured in the ads consented to the images used – however, the ASA were more concerned with the “widespread offence” that could be caused and requested their withdrawal.

13) Calendar clanger

In 2014, Ryanair took the decision to end production of its annual ‘Girls of Ryanair’ calendar following 6 years of controversy.

The calendar which features raunchy photographs of female cabin crew had come under fire since the day it was launched for being ‘sexist’ and ‘demeaning’.

Ryanair Chairty Calendar Clanger

Despite public outcries and a 2011 petition against the publication, Ryanair bosses were reluctant to let it go due to the fact that it was able to raise £100,000 each year for the airline’s chosen charity. He also insists that the concept was devised by the cabin crew themselves and not intended to offend anyone.
It’s believed that the calendar has been axed in order to help the carrier preserve a ‘family-friendly’ image.

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12) More casual sexism…

A rather embarrassing incident occurred in during a Twitter Q&A hosted by Michael O’Leary in 2013. It seemed to go quite well, with many followers being very receptive of the move. Unfortunately, O’Leary produced an almighty gaffe when commenting on a female users profile photo: “Nice pic. Phwoaaarr!”

It definitely wasn’t a smart move as tirades of followers turned on the Ryanair CEO by labelling his comment as sexist.

11) Blogger bashing

Ryanair was somewhat insincere in addressing insulting comments posted on a passenger’s blog by its staff. Several childish jibes were made by Ryanair colleagues, all of which seemed to be in retaliation to the blogger’s scathing assessment of the airline’s infamously convoluted booking procedure. And, just when you thought it couldn’t get more cringe-worthy, the budget flight operator issued this statement: “it is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.' Not exactly the most professional of responses, and the statement soon encountered criticism as it spread around social media in a matter of hours.

10) Twitter trolls

There are countless examples of ‘tongue in cheek’ tweets from the low-cost carrier’s official account, but one that stands out (perhaps not for the right reasons) is the trolling of Ryanair’s compatriot airline, Aer Lingus. In one of their tweets, Aer Lingus referred to Ryanair as a ‘rival’, Ryanair didn’t agree though: “We stopped being rivals in the 90s @AerLingus. We’d have to treble our fares and lose 81 million customers to be your rival.”

Ryanair trolling Aer Lingus on Twitter

It all appeared to be friendly banter, but neither airline came across particularly well.

9) Boarding gate bullies

In October 2012, a Ryanair colleague was accused of intimidating a passenger after she had lost part of her ticket stub.

Fiona Kehily was travelling from London Stansted to Cork in Ireland when she realised she’d accidently thrown away part of her boarding pass. While boarding the plane she informed a member of cabin crew, who reacted in an “incredibly rude and aggressive” manner. The passenger was repeatedly interrupted by the Ryanair crew member as she tried to explain the situation and at one point the female attendant, who was in charge of the crew on-board angrily instructed Fiona to “do something productive” and look for her pass.

After being humiliated in front of fellow passengers, Fiona was then told that she was making everyone late before being escorted away from the plane in floods of tears.

Ground staff eventually resolved the issue on her behalf and Fiona was allowed to board the flight, but it was an experience that she hopes nobody else has to go through in the future.

It would come as little consolation to the passenger involved but Ryanair’s Head of Communications, Stephen McNamara responded to the allegations: “Ryanair will address this passenger’s feedback with the crew member in question, and apologises if we failed to deliver the high service levels we consistently provide to over 225,000 passengers each day across over 1,400 daily flights.”

8) EasyJet calls a halt to Ryanair ‘tank’ stunt

The Ryanair-EasyJet rivalry was at its height at the turn of the century, and in 2003, the Irish airline decided to embark on an extraordinary publicity stunt.

In a truly ridiculous attempt to grab the public’s attention, Ryanair decided to dress staff in combat fatigues and hire a World War II tank to drive around EasyJet’s Luton Airport base.
Considering the stunt took place less than two years after the 9/11 attacks in New York, it was in extremely poor taste.

It was no surprise that Ryanair was prevented from carrying out its plan; the tank was stopped in its tracks by airport security personnel as it approached. Ryanair had branded the tank in its blue and yellow livery and claimed that police had already been informed of the activities that were planned. Either way, the Aviation Security Act prohibits any vehicle that appears to be armed from entering airport property.
Participants from Ryanair were moved away to a nearby hotel car park where they stood firm and continued to sing songs about EasyJet along to the theme tune of The A-Team.

Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, who had spearheaded the stunt was said to be less than best pleased and according to witnesses was “effing and blinding”.

The bizarre episode was brought to an abrupt conclusion when a member of EasyJet staff removed the keys from the offending vehicle to a chorus of boos.

7) Catch me if you can…

Flight punctuality has long been a focus for Ryanair, but it went too far in 2013 when a flight departed a Polish airport 30 minutes earlier than scheduled, leaving 20 passengers behind. The budget flight operator managed to mess-up the departure times but still went on to blame airport officials for the calamity.

6) Oops… wrong airport

Also in 2013, Ryanair managed to fly passengers to the wrong Greek airport. Instead of landing at Kefalonia, the plane touched down at Thessaloniki. Apparently the pilot was complaining that it was “too dark” as well as blaming “runway approach restrictions”.

5) Wheelchair charges

Ryanair never cease to amaze. In 2004, the airline was taken to court after charging a cerebral palsy sufferer £18 to take he’s wheelchair on-board a flight. The airline had the audacity to appeal the decision and threatened to charge an extra 50p on all bookings to cover costs associated with allowing wheelchairs on its flights.

4) Ash cloud mayhem

When a volcanic ash cloud made its way over from Iceland in 2010, flights were grounded all over Europe. As Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair was obviously badly affected.

The notorious budget flight operator once again took an ‘unconventional’ approach to customer service…
Instead of abiding by EU Regulation 261/2004, Ryanair refused to offer refunds – Michael O’Leary hurtled in, declaring: “You’re not getting a refund, so f**k off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”

It would appear that his anger stemmed from the fact that the delays and cancellations caused were beyond Ryanair’s control. Needless to say, EU legislation came out on top in this case, and O’Leary’s airline had to stump up compensation for the Ryanair passengers inconvenienced by the disruption.

Volcanic ash cloud made its way over from Iceland in 2010

3) Flying on fumes

In 2012, Ryanair ran into criticism after it emerged from the IALPA Irish pilots’ union that the airline was instructing flight crews to fly with near-empty fuel tanks in a bid to reduce operating costs. Ryanair denied this when quizzed on the matter despite having to divert a flight from Paris to Tenerife after the Boeing aircraft ran low on fuel.

2) Paying peanuts

In 2013, a Crewlink contractor working for Ryanair shed light on the poor working conditions experienced by her and her colleagues.

Sophie Growcott, from Liverpool, described working conditions at Ryanair as “a total nightmare”, with crew only getting paid for the time that they spend ‘in the air’ as well as being forced to take 3 months’ unpaid leave and shell out £1,800 for mandatory training.

Sophie Growcott, who was 20 at the time said she was ‘lured’ into signing a contract with Crewlink

Sophie Growcott, who was 20 at the time said she was ‘lured’ into signing a contract with Crewlink.

The ‘flight pay’ concept operated by Ryanair at the time meant that cabin crew like Sophie would not receive pay for the hours they’d spent conducting other duties such as aircraft turnaround, attending pre-flight briefings and mandatory sales meetings.

Even resigning would come at a cost, with a £168 admin fee incurred when leaving the company within nine months.

The issue was even raised in the House of Commons by Luciana Berger MP. She accused Ryanair of “ruthlessly” exploiting staff to maximise profit.

Ryanair was of course quick to distance itself from the accusations and reiterated that Sophie was not officially a Ryanair employee. Crewlink also refuted the claims, describing them as ”inaccurate” and “untrue”.

1) Damning documentary

Channel 4 broadcast an eye-opening Dispatches documentary inn 2006 that highlighted some of Ryanair’s more controversial practises including training, security and aircraft hygiene procedures as well as investigating poor working conditions at the airline.

The programme used hidden cameras to film cabin crew as they failed to check passenger passports before boarding, used aftershave to disguise the smell of vomit and even fell asleep on the job.
Ryanair dismissed the allegations and accused Channel 4 of engineering the footage to make the airline look bad.

Ryanair’s “always getting better” motto is probably taken with a pinch of salt by most but the Irish flight operator is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to PR disasters.

It’s the airline we all love to hate, and it certainly knows how to grab the public’s attention which isn’t necessary a bad thing; after all, didn’t someone once say “all publicity is good publicity”?

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