Airline passengers have a voice; see Ryanair

Rotation

It turns out there is a limit to how poorly airlines can treat passengers in the name of low fares. And Ryanair has proven as much in the last few months.

The carrier, whose CEO famously called passengers “stupid” for arriving at the airport without printed boarding passes and incurring fees, has been doing some serious damage control of late.

In addition to announcing improvements to the passenger experience (#PaxEx on Twitter) – including finally implementing allocated seating! – Ryanair went so far as to thank its customers over the holidays and vowed to continue improving in 2014.

A number of factors are driving Ryanair’s attitude adjustment, and stiff competition from an LCC that doesn’t appear to have outright disdain for its customers, i.e. EasyJet, is certainly one of them. But we cannot discount how today’s mobile, social, vocal passengers are helping to shape the industry. To wit, Southwest Airlines’ internal data reveals that most passengers who pay for an inflight Internet connection use it to check email first on their personal electronic device, and then immediately jump onto FaceBook. And, once there, passengers are very vocal about their experiences.

Does this mean that airlines will suddenly stop squeezing us into tiny seats, and stop nickel-and-diming us for services that were once part of the air fare? Not at all. But after testing the limits of acceptable treatment for years – and doing so under the mantle of eccentricity – Ryanair has concluded it’s time to raise its own bar and introduce a modicum of humanity and civility to its operations. Heck, it has even joined Twitter!

Ryanair’s change of tune speaks to a broader paradigm shift occurring in our venerable industry, one where passengers have a voice and are prepared to use it (while also making a statement with their travel spend!) That’s why I can’t think of a better time than now to launch Runway Girl Network, which aims to provide #PaxEx news and insight to both stakeholders and the traveling public. In the process, we seek to completely transform the traditional aviation B2B trade news model to encompass a B2B2C model that considers passengers’ needs and wants.

It also gives me great pleasure to highlight the fact that Runway Girl Network is shining the spotlight on the accomplishments of women in aviation, both past and present. Because, even though the airline industry is evolving, women are still woefully underrepresented in C-level management positions, and in the board room.

Count EasyJet CEO Carolyn McCall as among the exceptions. Interestingly, in a 2012 interview at World Travel Market, shown below, McCall said that when she assumed the position of CEO, “I did talk about passengers quite a lot, which was a bit of a culture shock for some people [at the airline]. But actually I think they realized that what I could do was help them, and that was really important early on.”

McCall knew something about #PaxEx that Ryanair’s insufferable CEO, Michael O’Leary, did not. Now he’s paying the price. And playing catch-up.

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