Ryanair: ethics should not be confused with reputations

Ryanair came bottom of a recent YouGov survey for PRWeek of major companies and brands the British public consider to be ethical and responsible. Ryanair head of comms Robin Kiely puts forward the ethical case for the controversial airline.

Robin Kiely: YouGov ranked Ryanair as the most improved brand in the UK last year
Robin Kiely: YouGov ranked Ryanair as the most improved brand in the UK last year

Surveys are a wonderful mechanism to generate noise, headlines and, ultimately, opinions. Add the word ‘Ryanair’ to the mix and you’re guaranteed a generous helping of all three.

While surveys and their interpretations can always be skewed, passenger totals can’t: 104 million people will choose to fly Ryanair this year – or more than 280,000 every single day. More importantly, these numbers provide the missing layer that surveys don’t offer: context.

PRWeek’s YouGov survey should be viewed in such context. The 2,083 UK adults surveyed is equivalent to 11 Ryanair flights, or given that a Ryanair plane takes off somewhere in Europe every 45 seconds, the amount of passengers Ryanair will carry in the length of time it will take you to read this article.

These 11 planeloads were asked to rank 23 selected brands, according to how ethical and responsible they consider them to be. The only other airline listed in this survey was British Airways. Were there any reputable comparables? Arguably not.

Low fare pledge

If one is to define ethics as a set of moral principals, then further context should be applied. Ryanair, from the very outset, has been about offering the lowest fares to European consumers.

Thirty years ago, when Ryanair first began flying between Ireland and the UK, it cost on average £200 to fly between the two countries. BA and Aer Lingus went out of their way to stop this upstart brand.

Ryanair ultimately won and democratised air travel for everyone. Today, thanks to Ryanair’s core moral principal of offering the lowest fares to everyone, fares cost just £9.99.

Ryanair carried just 5,000 people in its first year. In July and again in August 2015, it became the first airline in the world to carry ten million international passengers in one month – thanks to its core moral principal.

A lot has been written about falling fuel prices, but not a lot about fuel surcharges. Ryanair has never, and will never, impose a fuel surcharge on its customers. Many of the other operators in the UK do, or refuse to disclose if they do. It’s akin to paying a taxi driver to fill up for your journey. Is that ethically right?

Staff, customers and taxation

PRWeek’s survey found the treatment of staff and customers were important factors in deciding if a firm has ethical standards, as well as paying a fair share of tax. Ryanair employs over 9,500 people across Europe, is creating thousands of well-paid jobs every year, offering rapid promotions and unmatched job security, at a time when other airlines are cutting pay, jobs and pensions. Again, which of these is ethically correct?

And being a proud Irish airline, Ryanair is registered in, and pays its taxes, in Ireland. Interestingly, Apple and Google, both American companies ranking above Ryanair in the survey, also have headquarters and pay taxes in Ireland, taking advantage of a lower corporation tax offered by the Irish Government. Is that morally right?

Ethics should not be confused with reputations. Yes, Ryanair’s reputation proceeds it, and justifiably so in some cases. But the same YouGov organisation ranked Ryanair as the most improved brand in the UK last year. Similarly, the Customer Service Institute also named Ryanair as the UK’s most improved brand.

Ultimately, it comes down to choice. Consumers choose what’s best for them, or not, for their own reasons. People vote with their feet, or in Ryanair’s case, their bums, as well as with their hearts and minds, and an additional 14 such bums can be found seated on every Ryanair plane this year.

Robin Kiely is head of communications at Ryanair

Click here to read PRWeek's article on the YouGov research

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