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Budget airline Ryanair made an online PR gaffe yesterday (or at least some of its staff did) by its petulant response to the exposure of a bug on its website by a blogger.

Taking our cue from Jason Roe's post on Ryanair's usability error, I've been looking at some other ways that the budget airline can improve the user experience on its website and perform better online.

Ryanair homepage

A better website design

It is a low cost airline, but surely the website doesn't need to be quite this basic. Web users make snap judgments based on the look of a homepage when they arrive at a website, and this looks like a site that was designed in the late 90s. The blue and yellow colour scheme can be a strain on the eyes, while the whole page is far too busy.

If competing budget airlines like easyJet can produce a website that is more visually appealing and less cluttered, surely Ryanair can.

Take criticism

We've criticised a few websites on this blog, and most companies have taken criticism on the chin. For instance, Asda contacted me after we published this post criticising its website, to say they appreciated the comments and were working on improvements. Encyclopedia Britannica agreed to an interview after a critical article while Reevoo even added new functions to its mobile site on the back of comments on this blog.

More importantly, none has responded with the kind of attitude that Ryanair's staff did on Jason's blog, which has resulted in plenty of bad publicity for the airline across the blogosphere. Senior management was probably unaware of this, but perhaps needs to lay down some rules for its employees to avoid future repetitions.

Provide a contact number

Booking flights can be a complex process, and there are any number of questions that customers may have while booking their flights. The site has an FAQs section, but even the best cannot possibly cover every single query, and besides, some customers just prefer the reassurance of talking to a real person. Others, having checked prices online, may simply prefer booking by phone.

However, Ryanair doesn't seem to want any customers to contact the company, as selecting the 'contact customer services' option on the homepage doesn't simply provide a contact number as it should, but attempts to divert customers towards the FAQs section, before offering them a fax number.

Who has faxes these days anyway? Unless they happen to be in an office or library, how many customers have access to a fax machine? Yet, alongside an address, this is the only option offered for complaints.

If you persevere, there are some contact numbers on the website, three clicks away from the homepage, when they really should be clearly displayed during the booking process. Also, these numbers are for reservations only, Ryanair doesn't want to hear your complaints over the phone.

Providing a clear contact can have the effect of increasing customer trust, but should also help with conversion rates, as some customers may just require some quick reassurance from customer services before going ahead and booking.

Having used easyJet as a positive example earlier, I should point out that finding a contact number on its site is impossible, as it only provides email contact options.

Don't charge customers to call

When you are expecting people to spend money booking flights and hotels, charging them to make calls seems like absolute madness to me, and would surely leave a bad taste in the mouths of some customers.

At least from the UK, it is only 10p per minute to call for a reservation, in other European countries it can be up to €1.00 per minute. Still, if you are asking customers to call and do business with you, charging for calls is not a good idea.

Distracting buyers with ads

If a visitor comes to your site, you surely want them to go through the process of buying from you directly, so distracting them with ads for third party products that will see users depart the site if they click on them doesn't seem wise. Offering complimentary products like car hire and hotels at the end of the booking process is fine and can be useful for customers, as long as you don't overdo it.

Let me choose all  airports from the same city

If I'm in London and want to travel to Barcelona, I may not mind which airport I leave from or arrive at in my destination city, as long as I can find a flight. Most flight search engines provide the option of 'all London airports' etc which makes it much more convenient.

On Ryanair though, you have to search individually for each airport, making the whole process more time consuming than it needs to be:

Ryanair - select airport

Flexible departure times

I like the option that allows users to search for flights two or three days either side of the specified dates. While some customers may have a set date for their holidays, others may just want to find the best deal, so allowing more flexible search options saves users the job of searching again and again and reduces the need for filtering at the results stage.

Avoid returning no results

Customers don't want to see 'no results found' pages. This means they have to search all over again without any guarantee of finding results. Ideally, customers shouldn't even by allowed to select dates when no flights are available. In searching for flights from London to Paris and back, I could not find any results for the next two weeks, so why even let me search?

Most customers would try one or two searches, then give up and go elsewhere. I have rarely encountered this error on other travel websites I have reviewed.

Provide alternative suggestions

Instead of showing no results at all, the closest options should be suggested. I searched for a return flight from Paris to London Gatwick on 20th March and found no results. I got this page: 

Ryanair - no flights found

This gives me information about why I might not have found any results, the flight was full, as well as completely irrelevant information about fights from Riga. What it doesn't do though, is help me find an alternative flight. All I can do is select next day or previous day, which I did without finding flights for four days either side of my chosen date.

It should be offering options like flights to other London airports, or from other Paris airports, or at least offer me the next available option.

Lose the annoying error messages

By mistake, I entered a departure date of 29th February, and encountered this message:

Ryanair error message

The point here is that it shouldn't even be letting me enter invalid departure dates in the first place, I can also enter dates that have already passed for instance, all basics that most other travel websites would avoid in the first place.

Some customers could take offence at the slightly patronising tone of the message. Even if the user has made an obvious mistake, the tone of your error message should be friendly and polite. Basically, the message should not blame the user, but help to the correct their mistake.

I haven't actually gone all of the way through the booking process (I went as far as the payment stage), so there may be some usability problems I haven't come across. If you have encountered any when booking with Ryanair, let me know below...

Graham Charlton

Published 24 February, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (19)

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Fiachra Ó Marcaigh

Fiachra Ó Marcaigh, Director at AMAS Ltd - www.amas.ie

Graham,

It's not that Ryanair doesn't know about those usability issues. They know, but they just don't care.

One of the reasons I know that they know is that we told told too - http://www.amas.ie/reports_softhen7contents_ryanair.html - over a year ago.

We expected a PR Exocet from them at the time, but none arrived. So the comments yesterday from Ryanair staffers were quite funny really.

- Fiachra

over 7 years ago

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Jonathan Beeston

Graham, as Fiachra says, Ryanair don't give a monkey's.  The usual rules don't apply.

Your point our telephone numbers is irrelevant. Ryanair have made it abundantly clear that if you don't want to book via the web, they'd rather not have your business.  And if you don't like their service, don't complain, just don't use it.

I hope I don't seem harsh, this is a fair analysis of the site.  But Ryanair, somehow, don't obey the rules that everyone else does.  They don't even try to.  I could criticise that, but O'Leary has a lot more cash in the bank than I do.

BTW, the captcha on this site is way too difficult.

over 7 years ago

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Rachel Burkot

You make valid points about the problems with RyanAir's website. There is a thread throughout your post that connects all the ideas, and that is usability. Obviously, this website is not user-friendly, and I think your calling attention to that is essential. When booking travel online, customers are nervous. They're probably putting a few hundred dollars into the cost of their flight, so they're making a substantial purchase. And traveling is a chaotic activity, so they want simplicity and ease of use. If RyanAir makes the changes you suggest, they will have a much more hassle-free experience on the website, preparing them for a pleasant trip.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Jonathan and Fiachra,

I agree, it does seem that Ryanair are less concerned than they should be about the poor usability offered on its site.

It has obviously worked for Ryanair so far, though I don't think any company can afford to be too complacent about user experience for too long.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Quote from Ryanair in The Times: http://bit.ly/fHVc0

"Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again."

over 7 years ago

Lawrence Ladomery

Lawrence Ladomery, Founder at automatico

Web users make snap judgments based on the look of a homepage when they arrive at a website, and this looks like a site that was designed in the late 90s. The blue and yellow colour scheme can be a strain on the eyes, while the whole page is far too busy.

True, but it doesn't really matter. I would say that 99% of people who land on their site know exactly who they are and want to do one thing: book a flight. Ryanair.com doesn't have to convert anyone. It's a booking engine.

over 7 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

I too believe Ryan Air don't give a monkey's about the points raised on their Website. So long as it works, they're happy.

Reason, cost of flights. Although they are increasingly close to not being as good value as before. This is due to an almost monopoly position on various routes.

If BA or any other Airline offered the same route at an even similar price, I wouldn't think twice about dropping RyanAir for ever.

over 7 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

It's an interesting one the Ryan Air brand/approach. Sometimes I almost respect and admire their arrogance and rudeness - at least its a position you can understand! Not much 'spin' there.

However, in the end I think it's a mistake on their part. Should they have decent competition, or were there viable alternatives, as Vincent points out, I'm sure customers would take great glee in getting their own back. 

It can't be a good thing in the long term if I too think that I'd only ever fly Ryan Air if I felt I *had to*. And, on some routes, at some times, that is, unfortunately the case. They are setting themselves up for a fall. 

over 7 years ago

David Edmundson-Bird

David Edmundson-Bird, Principal Lecturer in Digital Marketing & Course Leader MSc Digital Marketing Communications at MMU Business School

Ditto Ashley - but the key thing is these bravado actions seem to have started tiring the flying audience. You can see the other budget airlines starting to reach out to them in ways that affect the public perception of them.

Recent social media outbursts do nothing to enhance their reputation, plus the the myth of the £0.00 flight means that people are looking to other sources for their "value" flight. Duff site, poor SM engagement and a product where the price element is actually beginning to work against them means only their virtual monopoly status is keeping the bums on seats. How long will that last?

over 7 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

Want more proof how how low they are willing to go, and at the same time treat customers as stupid?

Just seen the BBC news and O'Leary announcing they are going to start charging £1 for using the on-board toilets - "so as to help keep their prices low"!!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7914542.stm

But Rochelle Turner, head of research at Which? Holiday, said: "It seems Ryanair is prepared to plumb any depth to make a fast buck and, once again, is putting profit before the comfort of its customers.

"Charging people to go to the toilet might result in fewer people buying overpriced drinks on board, though - that would serve Ryanair right."

over 7 years ago

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Sam

They have many SEO issues too. Which we have neatly applied to their sector by clicking on my name.

Also is it true that they are going to charge for going to the toilet on a flight? I don't want to be regarded as a lunatic blogger though.

over 7 years ago

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cheshiregrrrl

I agree with all of these points, and noticed them when I booked on their site yesterday.  However, I can excuse usability if the functionality is there, which it certainly isn't, as exemplified in my booking:

At the time of my booking, it continuously gave me a "You are locked out of your session" notice after entering my billing info and hitting "Submit."  I would wait a while, then try again after a few hours of not seeing any flight confirm emails.

That night, I received two confirmations - apparently the site had accepted my payment one of the time it gave me an error message. 

No customer service contact whatsoever.  Further, under their "FAQs," they note that "no refunds are given for duplicate flights."

It leads me to think that they make more money off of site ads and "malfunctions."

over 7 years ago

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cheshiregrrrl

As a post-script, called the customer service number, they picked up right away and refunded without a hassle.

over 7 years ago

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Adam

Ryan Air can learn a thing or two from Malaysian airliines Air Asia which is now flying to London from Malaysia. They initlally had a lot of complaint frmo their customers but unlike Ryan Air, they listened to them and made several improvements. They now fly to 15 countries.

over 7 years ago

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Mel

ANother thing is the lack of information about how much extra kilos will be charged!

I got to the airport and was never warned how much I would have to pay and onceyou;re there lets face it what can you do? Leave your Xmas gifts to the hostess???

They made me pay 135 euros, all my christmas money meaning I had no money left for food that month!

WHat kind of a company does that??

And when I complained about this, the cost of my fligghts (over 400 euros return) and the alcohol advert on the plane (when there are kids listening to it!) they sent me that stupid fax thing so I have never been able to reply!

They should be sued!

over 7 years ago

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diane

What I know is that Ryanair took my credit card details online - did not confirm the flights, but rather I got two error screens saying the booking did not go through. Later I received the itinerary anyway. And now after more than a month of letters, faxes, calls and an investigation by the credit card company -- they still will not return my money.  Is this a matter for data protection? I don't know. How about if you give them your credit card details and Ryanair holds on to them and later decides you booked a flight. Sorry no refunds. I would never again put my credit card details into this booking engine. My credit card company even canceled my old card and reissued me with a new one because they thought Ryanair's response was suspicious.

over 7 years ago

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nicola dexter

I have tried on two separate occasions with two different debit cards to book flights - and it comes up with a payment error, saying I have entered something wrong.  I have double checked and double checked.  And I even rang up my bank and they said it hadn't even tried to debit the card - the error was before that happened.

I only use ryanair when I have no other choice

almost 7 years ago

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Jeepers Maryland

I guess this guy is our generation's Freddie Laker.

almost 7 years ago

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Adam Barnes

I think it's a really succint review of possible improvements to their website, but people in general vote with their feet (or in this case wallets) and Ryanair consistently generates revenue even with a horrible website such as theirs. I think the old adage about bad press is better than no press at all is what underlines O'Leary's publiciity strategy and as long as this sort of thing doesn't negatively affect sales, it won't change. It's frightening the amount of people on here who reference their comments with a "my Ryanair experience", nearly all of which are the recent past. There's only one way to make them sit up and notice - buy elsewhere...

almost 7 years ago

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