In the last few days, low-cost passenger transport companies have been the protagonists of significant episodes of crisis, in a period when travel is soaring. Ryanair has been the most talked-about case. The crew members of the Irish airline called a strike in Spain at the end of June and beginning of July, which led to dozens of flight cancellations and delays. Moreover, the airline’s workers announced this week that they are going to extend the strike for 12 days.
This situation has had an impact on its reputation and continues to irritate its customers, who are suffering from information uncertainty.
Amaia Arteta, client manager for external communications at Prodigioso Volcán, considers that “Ryanair has shown, in general, to be quite immune to complaints”. They assign ground staff the role of “dealing with users face to face. You won’t find big communiqués or spokespersons explaining the impact”. Arteta points out that in this crisis they published a brief news item on their website in which they described the strikes as “minor and not very well supported by cabin crew”.
The expert points out that on social networks “they do not offer great explanations in the open and users write to them via private messages. This is the usual way of trying to reduce the digital footprint”. “Ryanair does not mind infuriating its consumers with its business decisions. It’s part of their way of being,” he adds.
“You won’t find any big statements or spokespeople explaining the impact.”
BCW’s director of Crisis & Public Affairs, Yolanda Vega, argues that Ryanair “could have contextualised the situation differently; for example, about how the airline is coping with the pandemic situation in the industry”.
In reputational terms, Vega believes Ryanair benefited from the fact that another low-cost carrier, Easyjet, also went on strike on those days. “The focus was diluted quite a bit,” he says.
The image consequences, says the director of Prodigioso Volcán, are being limited. I don’t think Ryanair is as affected as we might think by the reputational impact,” she says, “when its own communication policy borders on permanent provocation. Ryanair plays the game that strikes happen, and then people still want to travel and travel cheaply. That said, fewer and fewer users accept any deal under the umbrella of being a low-cost airline.
Speed, anticipation and transparency, the best allies for a crisis
The experts consulted agree that the keys to overcoming this crisis through communication are speed, anticipation, transparency and honesty. Patricia Meso, Director of Corporate Communication at Hotwire, stresses that “the first step is to be prepared for the possible crisis, which will allow us not to improvise when it arises“.
Meso also identifies transparency as an essential element. He says that “we must always offer real data, without making up or distorting the facts, as this could lead to a second crisis of reputation and credibility for the company”. He also focuses on active listening, through monitoring, which “will allow us to react quickly”.
Ouigo, another low-cost company facing another crisis due to a breakdown
Another low-cost transport company that has faced a situation of business panic is Ouigo, the low-cost rail operator of the French company SNC, which arrived in Spain a year ago and is still working to strengthen its brand against RENFE.
On 21 June, 1,000 passengers on the Barcelona-Madrid route were stranded for hours in the early hours of the morning in Zaragoza. On social networks, many travellers shared videos of the incident and reported that they had not received any information from the company.
Passengers affected by the Ouigo breakdown on 21 June.
The director of Crisis & Public Affairs at Burson-Marsteller, believes that in this type of case it is advisable to “show your face and explain what can be done to prevent them” and establish a “more direct and personal communication with those affected, given that there were a limited number of easily identifiable people”. “From what we have seen,” she explains, “the company limited itself to apologising for the inconvenience and informing travellers of the complaints they could make“.
Prodigioso Volcán’s Director of External Communication Clients points out that in these situations “the communication and action protocols of the staff must be very clear, because the first thing the user demands is to know what has happened and what is going to happen. It is important to minimise uncertainty“.
Amaia Arteta qualifies that “unlike Ryanair, Ouigo is building its brand in Spain, and these incidents, although not always attributable to them, do not benefit them much. They are going to have to work very hard on their commercial management and define the brand and communication style they want to develop in order to be recognised“.