Back in September, Ryanair suffered something of a crisis after it was forced to cancel more than 2,000 flights, affecting some 315,000 passengers, after it admitted it had “messed up” its pilots’ holiday roster. This resulted in reports claiming many of its pilots and staff were overworked and desperate to leave.
However, speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon today (7 November), Ryanair’s chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs claimed the issue was more negatively received by the media than the airline’s actual customers.
He said: “Sure, it wasn’t ideal but our core customers weren’t too upset about it as 98% were on new flights or received a refund within two weeks of what happened. To put it into context – only 0.5% of the people who fly with us every year were affected.
“Some parts of the media got hold of it and said it was ‘chaos’ and that our pilots weren’t going to show up for work anymore but we didn’t see that story inside the business at all. We have 4,200 pilots and we have 1,000 more coming.
“At the end of the day, our audience is the customer, not the media. We’re sorry that something unfortunate happened but this is a very robust brand that has already moved on. Our goal is to become the most desirable airline in Europe for pilots to work and we’re on course to achieving that.”
Managing an outspoken CEO
The Irish airline’s CEO Michael O’Leary has earned a reputation for being outspoken. The reality is he’s more likely to make the headlines for saying something controversial – for example, he once claimed that customers “should pay €60 if they are so stupid they can’t remember to print their boarding passes” – than positive.
But Jacobs said O’Leary is a brand asset. “Sure, you have to regulate him at times as he’s outspoken but he’s been our CEO for 30 years. He is our brand ambassador and from a marketing point of view, I describe him as working with the golf clubs out back.
“The reality is he’s worth a fortune in free media coverage and that’s great for driving visits to the website. But even if he’s an asset, the bread and butter of our marketing is the website, the app and the customer experience.”
A growing part of Ryanair’s offer is its accommodations business (which Jacobs can be seen promoting in the picture above). And the airline is introducing ‘travel credits’, a points-based system that means customers who book hotels through the airline will be given discounts or incentives they can then also use towards flights.
Jacobs said the launch is proof Ryanair is able to quickly integrate great features from rivals and make them its own.
Jacobs concluded: “We do mystery flying on our aircraft and other airlines too. I like Air Asia, Wiz and we aren’t afraid to copy. We keep our mind open to rivals and other industries. We leverage just as much from retailers as other airlines.”