'Don't shift blame onto media' - PRs slate Ryanair's latest response to racism furore

Ryanair's latest statement on the racist incident on one of its flights has been criticised by PR experts for missing the mark by focusing on "inaccurate" media reports, for lacking the "human touch" and being "woefully slow" to appear.

The airline has suffered negative headlines for more than a week since a video leaked to the media of an elderly black woman being racially abused by another passenger boarding a flight from Barcelona to London Stansted.

In the video (below), captured by another passenger, a white man refused to sit next to the woman, Deslie Gayle, describing the Windrush generation pensioner as an "ugly black bastard". Eventually the woman was moved to another seat by Ryanair cabin crew.

Ryanair’s initial response – a single line tweet – was slated by comms professionals contacted by PRWeek last week.

Since then, Gayle has appeared on TV, including ITV News and This Morning, talking about the incident and being heavily critical of the airline:

On Friday (26 October), Ryanair released a longer statement, saying it became aware of the video late on Saturday (20 October) and was not aware of the racist comments until then. Ryanair reported the video to the police the following morning, the statement says.

The airline said it wrote to the female passenger via email and letter at 11am on Sunday morning, apologising and inviting her to contact the company if she wanted to discuss the matter further.

Ryanair head of comms Robin Kiely reiterated the airline’s "very sincere apologies" to the passenger and said it treated the incident "with the urgency and seriousness it warranted". Kiely added: "We trust this statement will address the inaccurate media coverage of this incident over recent days."

PR professionals have again criticised Ryanair’s response.

Rooster PR MD James Brooke said: "In communicating the facts, this statement is fine. But it’s been woefully slow in coming and again, Ryanair’s comms team has frustratingly missed the point.

"This was an angry incident that’s caused outrage. For an airline led by one of the most outspoken and forthright CEOs, I can’t understand why Ryanair wouldn’t come out fighting stating first that they have a zero tolerance policy towards racism and aggressive behaviour, and secondly explaining the timeline of events. Instead they’re more concerned with ‘inaccurate media reporting’."

Brooke said Ryanair’s "priorities are completely wrong", arguing that the seventh point in the statement, about Ryanair's long record of not tolerating abusive or disruptive passenger behaviour, should have come first.

He said it’s "a classic case of poor issues management resulting in more issues, of which one will no doubt be an ongoing slide in their profits".

Corporate and tech communications consultant Rajmeena Aujla also criticised the response for being slow and lacking the "human touch". She tweeted:

Other comms professionals were similarly critical on social media:

Molly Burton, senior internal communications officer at Greater Manchester Police, had another take on the statement:

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