RyanAir, Europe’s largest airline, in my view are the epitome of a poor Customer Experience. Over the last few days, they have proven this yet again as the airline has begun cancelling hundreds of flights. Hapless travelers are stranded in far-flung cities or stuck at home when they expected to be on holiday.
Ryanair announced last Friday that it would cancel 40-50 flights per day for the next six weeks. Why? Apparently they miscalculated pilots and had to clear a backlog of staff leave by the end of the year. They also stated they were trying to address the "unacceptable" concern that its punctuality had fallen below 80% in the first half of this month.
Many customers received notice, by text message, of their flight cancellations only hours before they were due to depart. Ryanair offered refunds or rebooking on another flight, but often the next flight available was days away or non-existent. Customers found they will graciously forgo the administration charge but will still charge a change fee!
To make matters worse, until last night Ryanair wouldn’t tell passengers who might be next, releasing cancellations only up through September 20th and causing anxiety for everyone flying after that.
Ryanair – The Worst in Customer Experience
I used to fly on Ryanair, but their customer experience is so horrible I won’t do it anymore – I don’t care how cheap they are. However, over the past year or so, company CEO Michael O’Leary claims to have changed his customer-hating ways. He said RyanAir had begun listening to customers and putting forth ‘extraordinary customer service’. That clearly must just be a joke. It’s not what people say, it what speaks volumes.
In fact, Ryanair has made improvements to its seating and carry-on baggage policies. But it clearly does not yet understand that a good customer experience strategy also addresses the emotional and subconscious factors that make up most of a customer’s impressions. When you needlessly put your entire customer base in a state of anger and anxiety and then take three days to apologize for it, you have missed the point entirely. RyanAir clearly do not understand that happy customers are more likely to remain loyal. Furthermore, they will create and drive value for an organization.
The reason for the cancellations, according to the airline, is a shift in the vacation policy for pilots. While pilots used to have a vacation year that ran from April to March, the airline is switching to a January to December schedule. This means that a lot of pilots are now taking vacations in the fall. To avoid flight delays that would reduce the airline’s punctuality, Ryanair decided to cancel flights during September and October. A statement to pilots indicated that Ryanair knew this issue was brewing as early as last year, but waited until now to do anything about it and leaving the Customer in the lurch. It just demonstrates the lack of thinking of the impact on the Customer.
A Poor Response to a Customer Crisis
Ryanair’s statements in the days after the announcement did little to calm the outrage in the press and on social media. It noted that the cancellations would affect less than two percent of flights, but would allow the airline to hit its annual 90 percent punctuality targets. It admitted it “messed up in the planning of pilot holidays.” But this is little comfort to the 400,000 passengers whose flights will be cancelled and the hundreds of thousands of others who spent the weekend worrying.
After intense pressure, the airline did agree to release a list of all cancelled flights for the next six weeks. O’Leary “sincerely apologized,” saying, “It’s clearly a mess but in the context of an operation where we operate more than 2,500 flights a day, it is reasonably small but that doesn’t take away the inconvenience we’ve caused people”. It sounds as though he’s talking about a supermarket running out of bread, rather than an airline whose cancelled flights destroyed vacations and family celebrations and left people frustrated and paying a small fortune to make alternate plans. Very kindly they did issue a more extensive list at 9.15pm last night knowing that the Agent’s office closed at 9pm!
O’Leary additionally made it clear that compensation is only available to those whose flights were canceled with less than two weeks’ notice. And no, they won’t pay for you to rebook on another airline.
This just goes to show that O’Leary and Ryanair haven’t changed colors. They discovered that better ‘customer service’ could boost profits. But they don’t really care about their customers (or, apparently, their pilots who are now being asked to forego vacations altogether), and now they’re ruining people’s vacations because they didn’t bother to plan for a pilot shortage that they knew was coming. They could have encouraged pilots to take summer vacations, tried to boost staffing, or scheduled fewer fall flights in the first place, but they chose to let their passengers suffer instead. At the very least, they could have given people more than a few hours’ notice.
Ryanair is, in fact, wildly profitable and can easily absorb the cancelled flights and the compensation it will have to pay to people who were affected. And if low fares keep people coming back to Ryanair, the carrier will have little incentive to change.
Were you affected by Ryanair’s flight cancellations? What could they have done differently? Share your thoughts below.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX