14 October 2009

Why hate Ryanair?

With much anticipation I sat down to watch BBC's Panorama programme that aired at 2030hrs on Monday evening. There had been much hype about the broadcast, mainly from Ryanair's PR office, claiming the programme would be a BBC white-wash and that it would not present a well-balanced show.

Having watched the programme, I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. Panorama reporter Vivian White did a fairly good job in putting the piece together, though his on-screen manner wasn't as pleasing as his voice-overs. Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary did have an interview of sorts, as he left his company's AGM. No great scandal of any sort was exclusively revealed by Panorama and consequently I'm pretty sure that Ryanair will 'come out the other side' unscathed.

Firstly, the title of the programme was rather negative, with the word 'hate' contained therein. Surely Panorama could have named it 'Why not love Ryanair?' Sure, this has one word more but isn't as provocative. We may own the BBC, and to a very small extent have say about its direction, but 'Auntie' has to get the ratings, too; hence 'hate' will always be used over 'love' in a title of a provocative programme.

Panorama reporter White interviewed a member of cabin crew and a pilot - both anonymous - as is customary on such programmes, and revealed that the member of cabin crew, who incidentally isn't even employed by Ryanair, felt he was merely a money-making number, while the pilot's only criticism was that he felt time at the start of his day for the production of flight lists was insufficient. Go to ANY bus, coach, tram or rail depot in the country and I will personally guarantee you'll get someone to speak anonymously about the way in which they feel they're being treated badly by their company.

I've only flirted with low-cost budget air travel on two occasions: once from Stansted to Belfast International and once from Luton to Inverness, on both occasions travelling with easyJet. On both occasions I had to pay a fee to pay by credit/debit card (excluding Visa Electron debit cards) and also on both occasions any luggage for the hold was chargeable. Again, on both occasions, travel insurance was automatically added to my bill and I had to manually remove it (my preference). Panorama mentioned that Ryanair's planes don't 'dock' next to walkways and that its passengers have to walk airside. So did both my easyJet flights and also one with Delta to New York from Heathrow T4. This entire paragraph contains nothing Ryanair do that rival easyJet don't.

I simply failed to see why Panorama even bothered to run their programme at all. No doubt the recent introduction of mandatory self-printed check-ins featured heavily. Now this is a move that no other airline has yet undertaken: a £5 fee per person to print-off your boarding pass at home before you travel to the airport. There appears no way round paying this and if you arrive at the airport without having done it, you'll be charged £40 per person for them to print it out for you.

Put it simply: if passengers don't read the small print properly, they'll pay for their ignorance. If you don't like the way in which your £10 flight suddenly becomes £15 or more, once you reach the online checkout, you do have other options available: easyJet being one.

Panorama went to web design company Flow Interactive (designers of the excellent NXEC website amongst others) and they even said the small print wasn't particularly 'small'. They were, however, critical that things such as travel insurance is automatically added and it's not immediately obvious how to remove it until you search the page. Three weeks later, in the run-up to the programme going to air, and the page has been redesigned, no doubt hurriedly by Ryanair.

As for Ryanair's Oslo airport being nowhere near Oslo, have you flown from LONDON Luton? A 'mere' 32 miles from London; or how about LONDON Stansted? 40 miles from central London. Even Inverness' airport is 5 miles east of the city and Belfast International is in County Antrim, 18 miles north of the city.

The Panorama programme was put together well, but the actual content of what was reported lacked a considerable amount. My personal feeling towards Ryanair hasn't altered at all. I'd be no more or less willing to fly with them than before Monday at 8.30.

As one reader emailed: "I like Ryanair and have flown with them a few times. I don't think I'd want to work with them, but as you rightfully point out the uniform bond etc runs along the same vein as that which operates in the bus industry [for drivers' acquisition of their PCV license]. I quite like the way Michael O'Leary works, and as he says, you don't have to work or fly with them if you don't want to." (GL)