Ryanair Officially Tries to Be Nicer

airplane on runway and looking...
Shutterstock / Peshkova

In this day and age of social media, it’s getting harder and harder for airlines to get away with bad behavior. Lose someone’s luggage? You’ll hear about it within minutes of them landing. Serve a bad meal? Expect that to go viral on Instagram. If your customer service isn’t spot-on, you’ll be sure to hear about it.

But one airline has consistently refused to bow to customer requests. Ryanair is known for the kind of service that elicits complaints. In fact there are entire websites dedicated to documenting how much people are frustrated with what happens aboard Ryanair planes. But despite complaints, Ryanair has managed to find its way to the top of Europe’s airlines. Those baggage fees may seem ridiculous, but the airline is profitable for a reason.

Now with the European economy going downhill however, CEO Michael O’Leary knows that the airline can’t risk to lose passengers, and he is working on making the airline, well, nicer.The man known for proposals like onboard pay toilets (you’re only flying for two hours, you should be able to hold it) is now suggesting that his airline has to transform its brand; just offering crazy low fares isn’t enough.

On the heels of last month’s news that the airline forced a man to pay nearly $260 when he had to change his flight from Dublin to Birmingham because his entire family had died in a fire, Ryanair is now turning on the charm. According to The New York Times, that includes reducing oversized baggage and boarding card reissue fees as well as allowing a small carry-on no larger than 35 x 20 x 20 centimeters to be carried aboard flights from Dec. 1 onwards. Oh, and there will be “quiet” flights, meaning that people flying before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. will avoid the loud in-flight announcements.

It’s all in the hopes that people keep choosing Ryanair wherever they fly in Europe.
“As some of these policy changes will require website changes and handling staff retraining, we will be rolling them out over the next few months as we strive to further improve Europe’s number one customer service airline,” customer service director Caroline Green said.

Will it work? Only the travel social media sphere will be able to tell us.

Got A Complaint About An Airline? Buy a Promoted Tweet.

Pete, Flickr

Social media, in particular Twitter, has completely changed how airlines do customer service. Whereas once you would have to type an official complaint letter and send it to corporate headquarters, or give call the customer service hotline, nowadays you can simply post your feelings to the wide world of the internet, in the hopes that the company will pay attention. But while applications like Twitter may have been effective early on when fewer people were using them, today the platforms are saturated, and to be heard, you have to make some noise. Which is exactly what British Airways passenger Hasan Syed did.

In response to his father’s lost luggage, Syed (who uses the Twitter handle @HSVN) did more than just tweet his frustration, he purchased a promoted tweet in the New York and UK markets on Monday night, hoping that it would catch the attention of the airline. The tweet was simple, yet inflammatory: “Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous.”What followed was an explanation of the lack of customer service in regards to his father’s lost luggage, as well as complaining about the lack in response time. Because of the promoted status, in the first six hours, the tweet itself got 25,000 impressions, but that of course excludes the coverage that the story got thanks to the news and blog world. As of this writing, British Airways has yet to respond to the tweet.

But while some may commend Syed for being an empowered citizen, it does beg some questions: In the day and age of social media, do we expect too quick of a turnaround for customer service? While big airlines certainly have many people employed around the clock to deal with customer service complaints, how efficiently can they really do so? Are we empowered travelers who can expect better customer service, or are we just making more noise?

Even if British Airways does end up responding, what change, if any, will it make internally for the company? There are likely just as many people with good customer service experiences with a certain airline as with a bad one, and although one negative complaint can be the “tweet heard round the world” it may not make any difference.

Ultimately, the only way to get better customer service is to demand it, and social media is yet another channel that allows us to do so. Will Syed’s promoted tweet work? That remains to be seen.

Follies And Fixes In Long-Haul Travel

TheeErin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It was not yet 6 a.m., but I had a bad feeling about how the day was going to go. The stone faced desk clerk had no interest in checking me in here in Vienna, not to mention through to my final destination, Seattle.

“No. Different booking.”

“But it’s with the same airlines…”

“Different booking. No.”

“So I’ll have to…”

“You’ll need to collect your bag in Amsterdam, and then check in again when you get there. Take your bag to the departures desk.”

“I don’t understand. These flights are on the same airlines. Can you check me in, at least, so I can drop my bag…”

“No. Different booking.”

I gave up. Priority club, my ass.I accepted the boarding pass for my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam and headed through security. I told myself to chill, my stop was six hours and I had a lounge pass tucked into my wallet. I’d recheck in Amsterdam and then spend the morning napping in the KLM lounge.

At the check-in desk in Amsterdam, I asked the clerk what the problem was, why I couldn’t check in, why I couldn’t get my bag through.

“It’s terrible,” she said, “but they’re responsible for your luggage. If they lose it, they have to pay to have it shipped. They don’t want to do that.”

“But it’s with the same airline, both of my flights are KLM/Delta.”

“I know,” she admitted. “It makes no sense.” She shook her head.

I felt somewhat placated. It wasn’t a huge annoyance, but I wanted someone to agree that it was ridiculous. Off I went to clear security again and to breathe the rarified air of the frequent flier lounge.

“No. This pass is no good here.”

“But it says on the website that …”

“Yes, but not for day passes. We don’t take the day pass here. Delta doesn’t pay for the use of the lounge, so we don’t take their passes.”

I thought I’d understood the rules; I’d read them before buying my pass. I couldn’t bring a guest, but I only wanted to bring… myself. Obviously I had not studied the small print with enough detail. And I’d made the mistake of asking the KLM Twitter account, not the Delta Twitter account, about access. What I don’t understand about airline partnerships could fill a book.

“You can buy a pass for 45 Euros.”

I’d spent 50 dollars to buy the lounge pass. It’s not so much money, but I was getting crankier and crankier. I was trying not to get angry. I was tired. I’d been up since 4:30 that morning. I knew I’d be tired; I rarely sleep well before a long flight.

“But you’re partners,” I said. “You give me partner status everywhere else.”

“Let me see what I can do,” said the desk clerk, who then called a supervisor, a cool woman in uniform who offered to sell me a pass for 45 Euros. I looked at the KLM agent, angry at her and at myself for not making sure I’d understood the small print.

I told myself to chill. Again. Schiphol is a nice airport. There are worse places to spend a few hours drinking coffee and people watching and dozing in lounge chairs. There’s good food, and Wi-Fi that’s not great, but is fast enough for complaining on Twitter about how you’re angry at your airlines.

“Get more coffee,” I thought. “You’re just tired. This isn’t a big deal.”

I got coffee and juice and a sandwich on good brown bread with very fresh mozzarella. I opened my laptop and complained. I drank my juice. I drank my coffee. I hammered away on my keyboard, the picture of a crabby, tired traveler on a stopover.

This business with my lounge pass was the last act in a comedy of errors in my travels to Europe and back. Thanks to a cargo problem on my outbound flight two weeks earlier, my connection in Schiphol to Frankfurt was airtight. I was the last passenger to board the plane – my luggage would not make it. I was not particularly worried. I’d seen a series of flights to Frankfurt following mine. Worst case? My bag would show up while I was sleeping. I could chill.

I went to report the missing luggage at the Delta counter in Frankfurt.

“You need KLM,” said the man at the desk.

“But I checked in on Delta… and there’s nobody there.”

“There HAS to be somebody there,” he said, clearly exasperated, and then, walked me back to the KLM desk. There was nobody there. I walked out into arrivals and asked at the information desk, and then, was directed back into the baggage hall.

The clerk had materialized, removed the “Closed” sign, and was taking missing baggage reports from two impatient Israelis who’d boarded just before I did. It was my turn.

“Here’s your claim number and the website where you can find out when your bags will arrive.”

I stowed the printout with my documents and headed to the hotel. It took me 15 minutes to get there. My luggage was reported on the ground and ready for delivery not long after I’d had lunch. At about 12 hours, I asked for help in calling the number given to me by the clerk at the baggage desk.

“Oh, lord, don’t call that number! They’ll charge you by the minute!”

“Wait, I have to pay them to tell me where my stuff is? That’s crazy.”

I checked with customer service online. “Your luggage is on the ground and ready for delivery,” they said.

“Well, I KNOW that,” I replied. “I’ve know that for 24 hours now.” My bag did finally appear, nearly 36 hours after I’d arrived.

“We’re sorry for the delay,” said the note from KLM. “We hope you understand.”

I’d had it with ground services by the time I returned to Schiphol two weeks later. Any one of these events in isolation I’d have written off as bad luck, a bad day, or general travel mishaps. But the aggregation was making me irritable. The Delta KLM partnership began to feel like a an embittered marriage, kept together for the sake of the kids. I imagined them bickering after the little airplanes had gone to bed. “You said you would…”

I gazed past the plastic chairs and iPad-using Germans and families of bleary Americans in sweatshirts, breakfasting in various states of disconnection with their surroundings. Just on the edge there was the pale purple glow of the Yotel, a pod hotel that offers hourly cabins with showers. I looked at my crumpled, useless lounge pass, at my overpriced juice, at my angry typing on the weak Wi-Fi and then, I checked in for three and a half hours of attitude adjustment.

It cost me 46 Euros for the stay. For that, I got a tiny, clean, super efficient cabin with a comfortable single bunk, a shower and toilet, a TV (which I did not turn on), a powerful Wi-Fi connection, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks (which I did not take sufficient advantage of) and some much needed private space in which to reset my state of mind.

It was money well spent. When I checked out of my cabin after a short nap and some silent lethargy, I felt human again.

Airline partner terms are unclear, delays happen, the mystery of why you can check in here and not there – these things are all part of the process. The follies of transit are a critical part of travel and often, they are unavoidable. As a seasoned traveler, it’s rare that I let this stuff get under my skin.

But sometimes, when patience wears thin, you can throw a few bucks at a problem and not make it go away, but at least make it better. Upgrade your seat to Economy Plus, spring for a taxi and get an airport hotel the night before the early flight. Don’t buy the Day Pass, that way lies madness, but get yourself something nice. Travel is totally glam, but sometimes, it’s wearing and takes a toll. Give yourself a break. Book the pod for a few hours and make yourself human again.

Plus, you can use that refreshed energy for complaint letters to the airlines on the long flight home.

Video: Japanese Customer Service Is Different From Ours

In keeping with Japan’s reputation as a most hospitable country comes this video from LiveLeak. Two Canadian backpackers are attempting to purchase subway tickets so they can visit Tsukiji Fish Market, but have problems with the dispenser.

No worries! Apparently, in Japan, live, smiling attendants pop out of tiny, hidden slots in automated machines. Perhaps the U.S. should take note, and use this strategy to help stimulate the job market. If only we could get rid of automated phone prompts.


Trouble Booking Post-Sandy Air Travel? Try Using Twitter

The other day, a friend spent 40 minutes on the phone trying to rebook a trip from Orange County to New York City, only to have his request denied. But when we tried reaching out to the airline on Twitter, it took only 10 minutes for a response. After a few 140-character direct messages back and forth, we successfully switched flights within the hour.

Twitter can be a fast, easy and efficient way to get airline customer service, particularly in the aftermath of disasters like Superstorm Sandy. But not all Tweets are created equal. Here are a few factors that can help your message get noticed.

Using hashtags

Hashtags allow Twitter users to participate in larger conversations on topics and events. For example, a search on the hashtag #Sandy will bring up all Tweets related to the storm. Other useful hashtags include: #frankenstorm, #travel, #airlines, cities like #nyc or #boston and airport codes like #jfk and #ewr. If you include a hashtag in your Tweet, chances are your message will surface beyond your immediate network – which can be harmful to airlines if the sentiment is negative.Mentioning other airlines

It sometimes helps to stir up a little healthy competition. In this particular situation, we mentioned American Airlines in our Tweet to JetBlue, stating that American’s change policy included flights on October 28, while JetBlue’s policy started on October 29. We concluded:

@jetblue first time I’ve ever wished I flew @americanair instead. No way to change flights w/ fee waiver for a 10/29 redeye? #frankenstorm

Within a few minutes, we received a response from JetBlue asking us to send the confirmation code by direct message so they could see if we qualified for a change fee waiver, which we did. To boot, American Airlines sent us a cheeky Tweet asking why we had “cheated on them” and wishing us well.

Your follower count

The higher your follower count, the wider the network your angry Twitter messages will reach. As a result, Twitter users with more followers may well have their messages bumped to the top of the customer service queue. The same goes for users with high scores on Klout, an engine that attempts to measure a person’s social media influence. Airlines already use Klout to issue perks like airport lounge stays and even free flights; it’s not out of the question that they use Klout scores in their social media customer service platforms too.

Perfecting your message

Set aside the impulse to be rude and aggressive, and feel free to shelve the emoticons while you’re at it. Twitter’s 140-character message limit forces you to pare down your request to the bare essentials, and it helps to be direct and concise about your needs. Try to avoid messages like this:

@airline i am so bummmmmmed that i can’t change my flight!!! ur customer service sux. :(

Instead try something like this:

@airline trying to change #LAX-#JFK fl 204 fr 10/31 to 11/3 bec #sandy. phone agent says no flights on 11/3 but i see flights online. help?

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Shawn Campbell]