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News reached me yesterday that budget airline Ryanair has been accused by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) of being “puerile and childish” over its online payment policy.

John Fingleton from the OFT made the comments in relation to fees that are added when customers use all but one type of credit card (a pre-paid Mastercard) to book online.

He told The Independent the firm uses a legal loophole which allows it to advertise cheap fares because it provides at least one free payment method.

Ryanair has, as usual, taken an assertive standpoint, defending its business practices in the form of a statement from head of communications Stephen McNamara. “Ryanair is not for the overpaid John Fingletons of this world but for the everyday Joe Bloggs who opt for Ryanair’s guaranteed lowest fares because we give them the opportunity to fly across 26 European countries for free, £5 and £10,” it said.

However, as this story ripples through the national press, I’m left thinking that in a few days’ time this won’t have had much impact on the Irish brand’s reputation at all. Although these are fairly damning remarks, it’s no secret that low-cost airlines add hefty fees on top of one-penny promises. The firm is no stranger to bad press, with the OFT’s comment being the third potentially disastrous story which broke about Ryanair over the holiday fortnight.  

Ryanair has had a tempestuous relationship with the online space (to say the least) after it denounced bloggers as “lunatics” and “idiots” last February. A member of staff had responded poorly to criticism of the brand on a web designer’s blog and things only got worse as the comms team denied any official involvement, then backtracked while releasing a statement about not wasting time engaging with the blogosphere.  

Based on that one incident alone, it would make a refreshing change to see the company start to build bridges with its online community. Even though the OFT comments are unlikely to affect sales (people fly with budget airlines for price alone, not for ethical reasons or great service), if Ryanair did this it could leverage customer opinion in a positive way. Comments made in forums or groups could be pointed to, proving that the people who use its service really don’t care about the things outlined by the OFT.

As McNamara’s statement shows, the company understands why its customers fly with Ryanair, so why not use this to its advantage?    


Published 4 January, 2010 by NMA Staff

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