Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

5 November 2013

On my frequent journeys across the Irish Sea, I regularly find myself hidden beneath layers of clothing as I frantically scramble to my boarding gate. The disgruntled passengers by my side curse under their breath as airline staff examine the size, shape and weight of our luggage in hope of imposing heavy fines upon some poor soul. This is a scene that has become all-too familiar to me but it may soon become part of aviation history as the imposer of many of those fines, the Irish airline Ryanair, is trying to improve its image.

The past couple of months have seen a shift in Ryanair’s militant approach to customer service. The budget airline known for operating a strict regime has attempted to charm their passengers by promising a number of customer-service improvements.

It began when the company’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, announced that he wanted to reform the budget airline’s “abrupt culture”. As O’Leary charmingly put it, “we should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off.”

You might wonder what may have inspired this sudden change of heart? Well, money of course. More specifically Ryanair’s shareholders have been complaining that poor customer service has dragged down the company’s sales.

A series of promised reforms have followed. Victory number one: passengers will now be allowed to board with a second small carry-on bag – a trivial decision to some but a true delight to a lady in possession of a handbag. Victory number two: there will be a restriction on public announcements on flights that operate before 8.00 and after 21.00.

The latest and perhaps most exciting reform will see the airline introduce allocated seating, which may bring an end to the brutish behaviour of passengers scrambling to board the plane.

Michael O’Leary’s decision to overhaul the airline’s customer service strategy seems like a wise idea, particularly as growth in the company begins to slow. But will a simple facelift suffice? Mr O’Leary, I fear it may be too late for me.

I’ll never forget that journey to Treviso in northern Italy while sandwiched between two professional rugby players. Your airline’s image was tarnished in my eyes long ago.

Barbara Feeney is a producer for Monocle 24.

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