Ryanair Officially Tries to Be Nicer

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.

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.

New Airline Watchdog Pledges To Name Airlines That Don’t Respond To Customer Complaints

Did you have a bad experience with your airline? Was your on-board meal atrocious? Did a dispute go unresolved? Now you have a place to complain and have your voice heard, as the new Airline Customer Advocate website has just launched on July 1.

The website focuses on Australian carriers, and pledges to call out any airlines that have treated passengers unfairly. When you go on the website, you’ll be able to lodge a complaint that you were not able to resolve on your own. The customer will be asked to first lodge two complaints with the airline directly before using the service, as this gives carriers two chances to solve the problem. Interestingly, the service is funded by the country’s major airlines.

Said advocate Julia Lines, “I see the airline customer advocate as an ally for consumers when things go wrong. It’s another option for travellers. They should raise their complaints with the airline at first instance and if they are dissatisfied with that process they need to let the airline know that.”

Do you think there is a need for a similar service focusing on U.S. airlines?

[Image via Big Stock]

Delta tops list of “most complained about” U.S. airlines

Travel + Leisure just released a survey that compiled airline complaint information from the Department of Transportation. In it, the number of complaints per 100,000 passengers were collected. The results are not much of a surprise – the legacy airlines take up the top spots, followed by low cost airlines and regional feeders.

Here are the top 5 airlines from the list:

  1. Delta Airlines – 1.96 per 100,000 passengers
  2. United Airlines – 1.34 per 100,000 passengers
  3. US Airways – 1.31 per 100,000 passengers
  4. Northwest Airlines – 1.21 per 100,000 passengers
  5. American Airlines – 1.07 per 100,000 passengers

The list is based on data from the previous year, so Delta and Northwest are still listed separately. As usual, the low cost carriers score very well – JetBlue made tenth place and Southwest Airlines doesn’t show up till the 19th spot – with a mere .21 complaints per 100,000 passengers. Click here for the complete list, along with responses from the airlines and some background information on how they may have reached their spot.

(Photo credit: AP)

Evolution of travel complaints: TSA just the latest target

This week saw the vitriol of travelers (and travel writers) directed at the TSA. The new TSA regulations that were imposed in light of the terrorist attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight led many to unleash the proverbial hounds and attack both the TSA and Department of Homeland Security with great fervor. It became quite fashionable (and deservedly so) to use blogs and Twitter to mock the TSA’s plans for keeping us safe.

However, this hysteria is not new in the travel community. Travelers have a long history of finding a target for their angst and attacking it like cat on a Roomba. The TSA is just the latest object of travelers’ derision. There were others before it and there will be others after it.

Let’s take a look back at travel complaints through history.God – The Garden of Eden was the original all-inclusive resort. Despite the absence of a “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” policy, the Almighty actually had pretty stringent rules. While there was a veritable buffet for Adam and Eve, apples were off limits. The first guests to violate this policy were removed from the property and led management to blacklist all human visitors. Is that species profiling? Sure seems like it.

Christianity vs. Islam – Europeans have always enjoyed traveling. However, their motives for getting out and about during the Crusades were pretty shady.

India – Christopher Columbus never forgave India for not being in the Americas. Annual parades have yet to appease him.

Lack of produce – Scurvy was no joke back in the day. Now it’s a pretty good joke anytime someone offers you an orange.

Babies – They cry. They kick the back of your seat. They have little comprehension of the expletives that you’re shouting at their mothers.

People who recline their seats – I am one of these people. I make no apologies to anyone.

Airline food – Did you hear that airline food is gross? Yeah, so did every comedian in the 1990s.

Travelers vs. Tourists – The travelers vs. tourists debate is an epic one pitting blowhards against windbags. It has, however, kept the soapbox industry in business.

Cruises – When you’re the cause of a Twitter hashtag getting hijacked, you’ve officially made it as a preeminent target for travel complaints.

TSA – They’ve been accused of racial profiling, enforcing their policies arbitrarily and reacting to incidents with asinine updates to their rules. This latest episode is practically old hat for them. A hat that must be removed during the screening process, of course.

So, what’s my point here? At the end of the day, travelers will always find something about which to complain. Sometimes it will be justified while other times it will simply be a matter of opinion. People will always enjoy pointing fingers, making judgments and mounting their high horses.

But I think we can all agree that people who wear socks with sandals are just plain wrong.

Photo by Flickr user Aardvark of Fnord.