Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has promised a ‘softer’ approach from the airline – and he’s giving something away for free.
The budget airline boss shocked shareholders at the company AGM with the announcement of the change of direction.
O’Leary told the AGM that it is time to repair the airline’s battered image after the latest public outcry.
The airline was forced to apologize after it charged Dublin surgeon Muhammad Taufiq Sattar over $300 to switch flights after learning of the death of his family in a house fire in Leicester in England.
Shareholders had revolted at the meeting when they told O’Leary his aggressive attitude was cutting the airline off from a significant section of the market.
The controversial businessman told shareholders that the airline has written to Mr Sattar to apologise and express its sympathy, while it has refunded the extra cash that he paid.
He said: “The staff were implementing our policy but exceptions should be made in cases such as that of the surgeon’s.”
The Irish Times reports that shareholders had argued that a reputation for poor customer service and a ‘macho culture’ are putting people off flying with the airline.
One said: “We need to remedy a lot of things that make it seem difficult to communicate with Ryanair. There is a huge chunk of the market out there that just refuses to fly with the carrier.
“The company’s image could potentially have a hugely negative impact on shareholder value.”
The report says another suggested that O’Leary’s public persona had transmitted itself to the board and to the company.
In response, the chief executive said that it was unfair to blame other directors, most of whom are non-executive.
He said: “I am very happy to take the blame myself.”
Announcing that nine million passengers flew with the airline in August, making it the first EU carrier to reach this landmark in a calendar month, O’Leary praised cabin crew and pilots for their ‘general’ level of service.
He added: “The fact is that 99.9 per cent of people want the lowest fares available.”
After agreeing that the company image needs softening, O’Leary announced a revamp of its website that will allow individual customers to sidestep security features that are designed to deter “scrapers” and travel agents attempting to lift the airline’s prices to divert traffic to their own websites.
Ryanair is also planning a programme of development that will make its website easier to navigate and speed up the booking process.
A Ryanair twitter page has been launched and plans are in train to engage more with social media. The airline also intends dropping the €3 charge for downloading its mobile app from October 1st.
O’Leary said the company’s digital marketing strategy would cost more, but it intends to compensate for this by switching a significant portion of its budget from ‘older media to newer media’ according to the report.