Has Ryanair really had a change of heart?

Helen Edwards writes in the February edition of Marketing that she believes Ryanair has gone through a fundamental change in beliefs. She asserts that Michael O’Leary has recognised the advantage of being automatically seen as the lowest price operator is starting to generate diminishing returns. As a result Ryanair has concluded it’s time to fight competitors on the basis of the customer experience.

Whether Michael O’Leary has seen the light and has genuinely changed what he believes in only time will tell. But what is clear – based on the report in last week’s UK national press – is that O’Leary may have forgotten to tell his staff about the change in strategy.

The Daily Mail reports on the plight of more than 100 passengers on the Stansted to Porto service who, on Valentine’s Day, experienced an 11 hour delay, part of which was spent on the plane. Their frustration at not being offered any food or refreshments, with no air conditioning and not being allowed off the plane led to calls to the UK police. Officers finally boarded and passengers were allowed to get off and wait in the airport terminal until the flight eventually departed, 11 hours late.  But by then the damage was done. 100 passengers were furious and one posted a video on YouTube that has been viewed well over 1 million times.

To be fair the UK has experienced dramatic weather of late and the delay was outside of Ryanair’s control, as was access to the terminal. However, these are just the circumstances in which, as customers, we want our airline to pull out all the stops and show they are doing all they can. Ryanair’s staff clearly failed this test on 14th February.

The truth is that changing the focus for an organisation of almost 10,000 people requires more than an announcement by the CEO. In Ryanair’s case the change – from institutionalised customer abuse to caring for customers – represents such a major cultural shift, employees could be forgiven for thinking that O’Leary’s words are just a PR exercise. As Helen Edwards says the key to success with such a dramatic turnaround lies in the strength of conviction. And only time will tell if O’Leary is serious and whether his staff are capable of changing.