Monday, May 21, 2012

Don't Fly Ryanair. Just Don't.

A 12 Euro flight from Barcelona (Girona) to Milan (Bergamo) on a Friday night seemed too good to be true. When it landed 2 hours late in the wrong city, I knew it was. Welcome to Ryanair.

Parts of the story made sense. Maintenance problems were discovered just prior to takeoff, forcing passengers, crew, and luggage to change planes. Pushing the already-late takeoff to 2 hours later caused issues at the destination airport, which diverted the flight to a nearby airport.

But other parts defied logic. What kind of aircraft service operation requires the technician to scurry back and forth to his office inside the terminal to perform some calculations? Why was our flight prevented from changing planes to allow four successive incoming flights to land, when the only chance we had to arrive at our destination airport was to switch immediately? And how could the flight crew possibly wait until 20 minutes to landing to notify us that we would be landing not at Bergamo but at Verona?

Upon arrival in Verona at 2am, passengers were promised a bus back to Bergamo Airport, 100km away. This did not seem particularly appetizing as we understood the airport there was closed - hence what ground transportation could we hope to find, not least for those hoping to connect via bus to Milan? Nonetheless we waited outside the airport. 45 minutes went by and the bus showed no sign of materializing. The pilot and crew had sneaked off in a van (so much for the notion of the captain going down with the ship). There was no airport staff anywhere. And so, my girlfriend and I made the only choice that seemed available. We hailed the only cab at the airport and asked him to take us to the Verona Airport Hotel, visible in the distance. A short while and 125 Euros later (hotel and cab fare), we were finally asleep.

Was it an unfortunate series of bad breaks or deliberate mismanagement and utter disregard for the customer? For me, there is too much evidence in favor of the latter. I understand that maintenance delays are part of air travel but the airline had so many contact points at which to improve both its operations and its service to avoid stranding us in Verona.

My attempts to claim reimbursement for the cab and hotel have further illustrated Ryanair's disregard for the customer. According to European Law (EU Regulation 261 / 2004), airlines are required to reimburse passengers for expenses incurred due to a delay longer than 2 hours. Ryanair's website makes it seem like they only reimburse for cancelled flights, which is in blatant disagreement with the law, but their online claims submission form doesn't even work so I had to send a letter through fax instead. The response came through a week later (to my email address), ignoring the distinction between a delay and a cancellation but still asserting innocence because, Ryanair claimed, factors outside the airline's control had caused the flight to be diverted from Bergamo to Verona.

Ryanair's maneuver was a decent example of what insurance companies used to do - deny your claim automatically under some justification and hope you would go away. But it ignored the 2-hour delay which actually caused the diversion, a glaring oversight. It's not as if the flight took off on time and had to change course due to, for instance, a tornado in Bergamo (don't laugh; tornadoes actually do accur in northeast Italy). I spelled this out in my next letter and said that if my claim was not paid I would elevate it to the Italian air travel authority, which could subject Ryanair to a € 5,000 fine.

The next response arrived a few days later and, while again denying blame, said the airline had decided to pay my claim in full via a check. The check eventually did arrive, though after three weeks instead of two as the airline promised.

Meanwhile, I decided to see if I could verify Ryanair's ever-present claim that it is the "No.1 on-time airline in Europe with the least flight disruptions; as detailed in audited statistics issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority." I ran some numbers on the 2011 data, analyzing 1.4mn flights, the output of which is below. Ryanair's performance is not bad according to this data. Nonetheless, I believe the claim is wrong for 3 reasons:

1. Ryanair is NOT the most on-time airline in Europe, according to this data. Other airlines that have less flights are more on-time. Ryanair could choose to claim (correctly) that it is the most on-time budget airline, or is better than British Airways, or that it exceeds the UK average of 80% (Interestingly, the US average is 85%, according to a recent FT piece) - instead, they opt for a boast which sounds better but is false.

2. It is unclear whether the data is actually audited by anyone, as the CAA says they compile it from various sources (i.e., the airlines themselves) and can neither certify the data's "accuracy, integrity, or reliability" nor comment on any conclusions drawn from it.

3. The UK CAA, as its name implies, publishes data only from arrivals to UK airports. Yet Ryanair operates throughout Europe. The agency responsible for compiling Europe-wide delays is Euro Control, which says it cannot disclose data on individual airlines. 

Why would Ryanair consistently make this claim (it is ever present in communication with customers as well as public filings)? First, to counteract well-publicized horror stories and customer campaigns. More seriously, perhaps the airline is guilty of a bait-and-switch because they didn't like Euro Control's data. Either way, when your flight has been delayed or cancelled the claim is of little consolation.


Airline
# Flights
On-Time
Late
BRITISH AIRWAYS PLC
277,063
80%
20%
EASYJET AIRLINE COMPANY LTD
200,146
82%
18%
RYANAIR
127,843
85%
15%
FLYBE LTD
110,573
85%
15%
BMI BRITISH MIDLAND
48,558
78%
22%
THOMSON AIRWAYS LTD
40,711
77%
23%
LUFTHANSA
33,679
71%
29%
MONARCH AIRLINES
29,765
70%
30%
AER LINGUS
28,394
83%
17%
THOMAS COOK AIRLINES LTD
27,906
75%
25%
BA CITYFLYER LTD
25,416
86%
14%
VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS LTD
19,771
76%
24%
SWISS AIRLINES
18,278
81%
19%
SAS
17,959
84%
16%
KLM
16,428
87%
13%
AER ARANN
16,210
84%
16%
VLM (BELGIUM)
15,935
90%
10%
WIZZ AIR
15,686
72%
28%
LOGANAIR
15,494
88%
12%
CITY JET
14,757
88%
12%
JET2.COM LTD
14,417
61%
39%
BMI REGIONAL
13,859
92%
8%
* On-time flight: Within 15 minutes of stated arrival.

1 comment:

  1. I came back last night from Italy by flying with a Ryan air plain!!!and of course, it was late both time (go and back) :)
    I perfectly agree with you. In my opinion, Ryan air is applying a really agressive and unfair policy, probably due to the cost reduction strategy. However, it is hard to pick a different company, because of the relevant price difference. And so, as a famous italian saying states: a little can buy a little (=con poco si compra poco)!:-)

    ReplyDelete