Flop of the Month: Ryanair faces turbulence over racism response

With falling profits, strikes and flight cancellations, October was tough anyway for Ryanair. But the angry backlash to its handling of a racist incident on one of its flights made it a truly dire month for the controversial airline.

Flop of the Month: Ryanair faces turbulence over racism response

A video published online showed an elderly black woman being racially abused by another passenger on a flight from Barcelona to London Stansted. Eventually the woman – not her abuser – was moved to another seat by cabin crew.

Ryanair’s initial response - it tweeted "we are aware of this video and have reported this matter to Essex Police" – was widely seen as insufficient. A public apology, condemnation of the man’s behaviour, and a reiteration that racism won’t be tolerated on its flights may have dampened criticism.

In addition, it could have pledged extra training – like Starbucks, following an incident in a US store when an employee called police on two innocent black men.

Either way, some questioned why the airline’s high-profile CEO Michael O’Leary appeared AWOL.

A second, longer statement on Friday (26 October) said Ryanair was not aware of the racist comments until the day after the flight, that it had apologised to the victim, and treated the incident "with the urgency and seriousness it warranted".

That also came in for criticism for focusing more on "inaccurate" media reporting than the racist outburst (point seven of the seven-point statement highlighted Ryanair's long record of not tolerating abusive or disruptive passenger behaviour).

Some subsequent media coverage has suggested goodwill towards O’Leary in the investment community is disappearing. His company’s lacklustre response to a red-flag media crisis would hardly have helped.

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