Friday, July 11, 2008


The irony of the European Parliament banning unfair advertising fares on flights and Ryanair talking of scams.

Ryanair confrontational? You're not kidding. The company's display of arrogance and belligerence in the wake of the European Parliament ban on bogus advertising fares is, quite simply, textbook.

Responding to years of customers' complaints across the continent, Strasbourg has finally decided to ban airlines from shameless advertising fares that do not include the taxes and charges passengers have to pay, the sort of 'Fly to Paris for 0.99p' that can end up costing you hundred times as much. So widespread was the parliamentary agreement that the motion was whizzed through without a formal vote.

Yet Ryanair's official response (8 July 2008) via their spokesperson Stephen McNamara was that "no changes" are needed as far as their own website is concerned. It is already "one step ahead of the European Parliament" and in line with "Ryanair's high standards of fare transparency"
Well…the truth is a little different. Very few (aside from Ryanair's chief and his mates) would deny that their practices have been unfair for a long period of time. In the words of Robert Evans, a British MEP, customers "see an advert, a headlined figure, but when they actually end up paying for it it's a lot more than that because there are extras that hadn't been made properly aware to them at the beginning".

This is why, a few months ago, along with other low fare airlines, Ryanair were persuaded to display tax and other surcharges in a dropdown box. You select your cheap flight and along comes a window that sets you a step closer to reality, warning you that it doesn't come that cheap after all. It is unfortunate that when we checked what the feature looked like on Ryanair's website, we found the following disclaimer:

"We regret, due to system slow down issues, we have been unable to display the tax inclusive fare box on this page, since 25/06/2008. We are currently working with our suppliers, including Navitaire & Microsoft to resolve these problems and hope to restore the tax, fees & charges inclusive display shortly".

At which point you automatically wonder: why don’t Ryanair simply advertise the total price up front? Why does the customer have to wait for the elusive "tax inclusive box" (which only comes with "step 2" of booking) and that, as of today, has not been functioning for 15 full days?

So when the European Parliament forces them to stop this practice and Ryanair retorts aloof that they don’t need to make any changes, does it cross your mind, just for a second, that they may be treating 450 million Europeans like a bunch of idiots?

Ryanair has a habit of shrugging off all criticism as "false". An interesting choice of vocabulary. In 2004-05 they threatened court action against a website that collected hundreds of customers' complaints and stories of travellers routinely being conned or treated like cattle, learning the price of "no-frills low-fares" the hard way. Asked to point out which stories, claims or details may have been "false", Ryanair declined and conveniently opted for the silent treatment.

Yet the company should most certainly be handed an award for imagination when it amounts to coming up with new charges. You pay "extra" for checking-in. You pay extra for "priority seats". You pay extra (they've made it into a maze, but the fact is the baggage/check-in fees keep going up, look here) for a bag. You pay (a lot) extra for excess weight. You pay premium (or very high at least) telephone rates if you need any help or have a problem (just take a look at their website: the customer service page is strategically tucked away- there are tons of horror stories online about people who wanted to complain to Ryanair but couldn’t find a way to do so). Most amazingly, Ryanair (though they're not alone here) charge you for paying. Yes, you read correctly.

Imagine you queue at the supermarket checkouts. They've already charged you extra to get in and for using a trolley. Now you are told that you can only pay by card (it's notorious that Ryanair don’t do cash transactions) but they have to charge you to use that card. You have to pay extra for paying. There is a story on where the writer Sascha Hutchinson was charged £3-50 for using a Visa Debit. When she complained to Ryanair (not a straightforward procedure, as it turned out), she was told brusquely that her claim was "untrue" as she must have made a mistake, i.e. clicked on the Visa credit card option instead. But I've just checked. Sascha Hutchinson was right. Today, 10 July 2008, if you book using a Visa Debit they charge you 5 Euros (of course you only find out as you're about to pay), and double that if it's a return ticket. Who's selling "untrue" stories then?

And what about the joke of marketing flights to Paris, except that you end up at a place called Beauvais an hour and half away from the capital? Of course, no-one expects an airport to be right in the city centre, but is it fair to advertise Luton, Girona and Orio al Serio as London, Barcelona and Milan? They may as well rebrand their Birmingham route "London-Birmingham" or Valencia "Barcelona-Valencia"!

Which leads us to the issue of Ryanair's own CEO, foul-mouthed Michael O'Leary. The man who hits out at the European Union's "scams". The man who is so concerned about the working classes' right to fly that he has no problem squeezing any penny out of them with the cheekiest smallprint-based pricing strategies, one-sided refund policies and "discretionary charges". To listen to him you'd think that, poor thing, he's had a right struggle against the evil of Europe and that he's the Robin Hood of the hard done-by. And yet each week we learn of new Ryanair routes into the depths of Poland or Norway so, one would conclude, it doesn’t look like he's done that bad, does it? He's become a multi-zillionaire in the space of a few years and his company keeps expanding like a tampon in water. Ryanair even finds the time to issue press releases that take the mick out of competitors giving up on certain routes i.e Easyjet packing their bags from Dortmund. Aggressive practices, anyone?

When the European Parliament increased environmental taxes on aviation, O'Leary went on full-on mode. Look at how he lashes out: “These clowns in the European Parliament seem determined to destroy the European airline industry with these discriminatory taxation penalties. When aviation accounts for less than 2% of Europe’s Co2 emissions, and when airlines like Ryanair have invested heavily in new aircraft to reduce our emissions per passenger by 50%, there is no justification for this tax theft by the European Union". Aside from the manipulative "less than 2%" claim (read here to understand the nonsense of it), it's interesting how O'Leary growls "tax theft" and "tax scams".

Michael O'Leary talking about scams, ladies and gentlemen.


Anonymous said...

I work at the OFT. Remember when last year Ryanair called the Advertising Standards Authority "absolutely stupid asses"?

That because they were warned for repeatingly breaching advertising standards.

Yes, the way they conduct stuff is very very aggressive indeed.

Anonymous said...

"Ryanair's national press advert breached advertising rules relating to substantiation, truthfulness and comparisons with identified competitors", said the ASA. - August 2007

Anonymous said...

Boycott Ryanair I say. They're not only scummy extortioners, they're also misogynist pigs - considering their "schoolgirl" ad last year, and the press conference this year where they promised blowjobs for the economy class on all their flights. Lovely.