‘They get you there and at a decent price’: that’s the main reason I hear for people choosing Ryanair. Although it seems that may no longer be the case, for now at least. Last weekend’s decision to cancel hundreds of flights over the next six weeks has left Ryanair passengers either angry at having their plans changed or fearful they will be.
As well as the commercial hit (Ryanair’s share price fell by three per cent on Monday morning) it is impossible not to also think of the reputational impact. Trust is important to any industry’s reputation but it is fundamental to airlines. Of course, the ultimate trust measure is getting you safely to your destination but customers also trust airlines to get them on holiday/to that business meeting or ensure they get to spend time with loved ones.
To demonstrate this: BA’s power problems in May, which cost the company a reported £58 million, coincided with the start of the school half-term, and resulted in hundreds of family holidays being disrupted, endless media attention and serious questions asked of the CEO. Using our Reputation Credit Score (which tracks the UK public’s opinion on a range of reputation attributes, including trust), we saw a significant and immediate drop off in BA’s reputation. From being comparable with Waitrose before the crisis, it fell by 20 per cent overall and 29 per cent among those who spontaneously mentioned the power outage story, bringing its perceived reputation more in line with that of Ryanair. There was no improvement when we checked again some four weeks later.
Equally, Ryanair’s trust score was already low compared to EasyJet and that was before this weekend’s announcement which will do little to stop it slipping further. At the same time the competition seem to be upping their game. EasyJet announced a partnership with WestJet and new kids on the budget airline block Norwegian opened up the Americas and Singapore to its customers. Indeed, Norwegian claims to have recruited 140 Ryanair pilots since the start of the year – which may be part of the current problem.
As Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary himself pointed out last year: ‘If I’d only known being nice to customers was so good for our business, I’d have done it years ago.’ The question now is what will the long-term reputational, and therefore commercial, impact be of going against his own advice?