Flop of the Month: Ryanair grounded as flights fiasco continues

Ryanair is PRWeek's Flop of the Month for September, thanks to the budget airline's comms around its developing flight cancellation crisis.

(Credit: Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
(Credit: Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Ryanair has been forced to cancel a further 18,000 flights this week, after it emerged earlier in the month that an error in its scheduling of staff holidays had forced the carrier to cancel two per cent of its flights until the end of October.

A few days after it became apparent the error would impact up to 400,000 passengers and up to 50 flights per day, Ryanair's famously straight-talking boss, Michael O'Leary admitted the airline had "f***ed up".

Indeed in a hastily organised press conference, O'Leary was found in the very unusual position of, as London's Metro paper put it, 'grovelling' in apology.

In this sense O'Leary ticked off some of the points in the crisis-handling playbook - he took the rap, apologised, and was seen to be dealing with the problem - but somehow Ryanair seemed less prepared than usual.

O'Leary had failed to appear in front of the media for a couple of days; and, as we all know, one should always get the bad news out in one go. Hence damaging headlines dragged on for at least a week, suppressing Ryanair's share price.

Ultimately it should not prove a defining crisis for Europe's biggest airline (by passenger numbers) and if Ryanair gets its relationship with pilots back on track this 'cock up' will quickly be forgotten.

But it was a rare misstep for a carrier that has grown apace over the past 20 years. There are even hints of fundamental challenges to its brutally efficient business model; not least the emergence of another aggressive low-cost carrier in the form of long-haul specialist Norwegian Airlines, which has poached at least 140 of Ryanair's pilots.

The notoriously rude O'Leary is fast realising he may have to be nicer to passengers and staff if this incredible growth story is to continue.

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