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A Farewell to My Buddy Stephen McNamara with Ryanair

Ryanair Boeing 737 seen in Seattle before delivery. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

Ryanair Boeing 737 seen in Seattle before delivery. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

If you cover the airline world, you probably know the name, Stephen McNamara. He is the crazy (or pure genius) PR person behind Ryanair. I was shocked to recently read that he will be leaving Ryanair and heading over to Rugby Football Union as their Director of Communications.

You see, I have a special place in my heart for Mr. McNamara. He is well known as being elusive to many in the aviation journalism biz and I was extremely privileged to have him email me about some “mis-information” a while back. Him leaving has stirred up the memories and I wanted to reminisce.

It all started with me writing a story way back on March 10th 2010 about Ryanair stranding some passengers. The story showed up on my blog, but also on my Seattle PI syndication. This is where Mr. McNamara found my story and strongly disagreed with what he read. He wrote directly to the Seattle PI, but since they have no editorial control over my content, the email was forwarded to me. Mr. McNamara did not like that the Seattle PI was not able to change my story.

“Your answer is less than satisfactory and it is a damming indictment of the Seattlepi.com that you would allow clearly incorrect and biased information appear and remain on your site – brushing this off as an issue for the publisher is simply rubbish – it is on your site, you are the publisher,McNamara stated in his response to the PI (see his full reply here). Even at this early stage in my blogging career, I knew I was on to some gold-standard material.

BONUS: The five stages passengers go through when flying ultra low-cost carriers — like Ryanair

Stephen McNamara, currently head of PR for Ryanair.

Stephen McNamara, currently head of PR for Ryanair.

I decided to write him back. I truly don’t want to be writing wrong information and was happy to update my story. Although he stated that he doesn’t “have the time (or resources) to correct the errors most bloggers come up with,” McNamara gave me a very long winded reply email correcting my mistakes. His reply was filled with even better material and I questioned if I should share his entire email or just give a summary. Knowing Ryanair loves the negative attention and the fact that the message was just too good not to share, I made the decision to copy and paste

If the same thing would happen today, I probably wouldn’t make the same move, but there are benefits to being a lesser known blogger.

Don’t get me wrong here… I have tremendous respect for Ryanair and Mr. McNamara. The crazy ideas they have come up with, just to get free publicity, have been pure genius. The fact that so many journalists around the world pick up the stories as fact has been hilarious.

Passengers and media love to hate this airline, but their business model of extreme ala-cart pricing and laughable headlines getting them free publicity has made them one of the most successful airlines.

It is amusing to me that some headings (example one and two) stated that working as head of Ryanair PR is the worst PR job in the world (well, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary actually said it first). I think I have to disagree a bit. Where else can you come up with stories, like offering standing seats only, banning kids from flights, requiring passengers to pay for toilets or state you are looking at only having one pilot instead of two in each plane and have media around the world eat up your story and give your company publicity? That sounds like a pretty rad PR job to me.

So, Mr. McNamara, I salute you and the work you have done at Ryanair. I hope your replacement is as equally entertaining and able to provide high-end content for little ‘ol bloggers like me. The fact that I have traveled the world to cover different airline and travel stories, but our interaction over two and a half years ago is still one of my favorite all-time stories says something. I wish you the best of luck.

NOTE: I will be emailing Mr. McNamara with a link to this story hoping to get some sort of comment. If so, I will update the story. I wouldn’t hold your breath, but it is the giving season right?

This story written by… David Parker Brown, Editor & Founder.

David started AirlineReporter.com in the summer of 2008, but has had a passion for aviation since he was a kid. Born and raised in the Seattle area (where he is currently based) has surely had an influence and he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world.

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OPINION: From Someone Who Has Flown Ryanair

Amy's family took this photo when flying from Shannon to Paris. When sending the photo, Dorothy (Amy's mom) points out the Aerlingas plane in the background, which was going to the same destination and cost 3-4 times.

Amy's family took this photo when flying from Shannon to Paris in 2008. Dorothy (Amy's mom) points out the Aer Lingus plane in the background going to the same airport and charging three times more than Ryanair.

Don’t worry folks. The blog is not going to turn just into talking about Ryanair, but recently I have received not just one, but two emails from Stephen McNamara with Ryanair and they have caused a lot of discussion on Twitter and the blogsphere [check out the BitterWallet.com opinion on the letters]. A lot of people have contacted me and commented about how crazy Ryanair can be, but I think they just would take it as a compliment. I haven’t had the opportunity to fly Ryanair, but my girlfriend Amy has been able to fly them quite a few times and I wanted to share her viewpoint:

Due to a study abroad experience, and later a work relocation for a family member, I’ve had the opportunity to travel a bit in Europe, flying on Ryanair about 15 times.

Ryanair has cheap tickets to various cities in Europe.  They have a great business model – no question about that.  I think that anyone who is duly warned about the downsides of flying Ryanair and then complains about it is getting exactly what they deserve.  It’s a low-cost airline, and they don’t owe you anything.  If you want a first-class experience, go ahead and pay three times as much to fly another airline.  If your main concern is fast and cheap Point A to Point B service to another European city, then low-cost airlines like Ryanair or Wizz Air or easyJet or whoever is the cheapest that week will do just fine.

You should do your research whenever you plan a trip, that’s a given.  There a few things to consider if you’re deciding whether or not to fly a low-cost airline on your trip.  For ease of comparison, I’ll refer to the points that David and Stephen McNamara were debating about Ryanair.

#1: Customer service – Low-cost airline staff are primarily concerned with efficiency.  You may be trading above-and-beyond friendliness for getting the plane off the ground in time.  I don’t exactly equate on-time arrivals with “customer service” but it’s important to recognize that Ryanair has a good on-time arrivals record.  Ryanair doesn’t do connections, so being on-time is pretty critical if you’re hopping around.  I was only on two late flights, and only one was a little catastrophic for my vacation plans.  Did I go complain to Ryanair?  No way.  Did I expect them to pay for my 200 Euro cab ride because I missed my train?  No – I knew exactly what I was getting into when I bought that cheap ticket.

#2: Charging for the little things – Yeah, there are lots of fees that make that cheap fare go up (though probably still cheaper than a larger airline).  Here’s a list of Ryanair’s fees.  However, if you have no checked luggage, can find a promo fare with no check-in fee, don’t need snacks or drinks, don’t need priority boarding (which most families do) and have no sports equipment, musical instruments or baby stuff (including actual babies – 20 Euros), you can avoid a lot of fees.  Think 22 year old backpackers.  This is their heaven.

#3: Flying to small airports – Ever heard of Reus, Spain?  How about Beauvais, France?  That’s “Barcelona” and “Paris” in low-cost airline speak.  Many (but not all) of the airports that low-cost airlines fly to are outside of the major city where your hotel probably is.  In this case, you’ll probably pay about 15 Euros to take a bus for 1-2 hours.  In Weeze, Germany, I believe the bus we took into Dusseldorf was also owned by Ryanair, which is pretty genius.  When flying from London to Dublin, I booked a flight from Stansted and it required a one-hour train ride from London, adding another 30 BPs to the overall cost of the flight.  It makes sense that flying to smaller airports keeps costs low – and it’s usually not a big deal.  Just know how to get to the main city.

#4: Ryanair is popular – Well, yeah – Ryanair was kind of the pioneer in this market and their route coverage has just grown and grown.  After awhile I would just assume that Ryanair had a better/cheaper flight than its competitors.

#5: Charging to make reservations over the phone – I never called to book flights (I’d go to internet cafes), so I didn’t experience that first-hand.  I guess their argument is that people who use the online booking shouldn’t absorb the cost of paying customer service representatives that answer the phones.  Use the internet, it’s 2010.

#6: Almost never giving refunds – I would never have expected a refund from Ryanair.  They are pretty upfront about being a bare-bones airline, and I’m sure the other low-cost airlines are the same.  Also, if you don’t get a refund, you’re really not out that much money.

#7: People fly, in spite of their complaints – For me, the positives (cheap, good schedule) outweighed the negatives (slight inconveniences, occasional fees, minimal customer service).  There is certainly something to be said for the “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else” approach.  There were a couple of times I felt frustrated and declared that I would never fly a low-cost airline again, but that feeling only lasted until I got to a computer to try to book my next trip.

Low-cost airlines in Europe really are in a class of their own.  For most routes, it seems like they compete more with ground and sea travel than they really do with large, long-haul airlines.  I came to view the small airports like train stations – lines aren’t too long and you don’t need to be there very early.

Basically, if any other airline could offer better customer service, fly to bigger airports, and still be cheap – they’d run Ryanair out of business.  But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, so for now low-cost airlines like Ryanair are your only choice and they know it.  Consider yourself warned and make sure to do your research.

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Ryanair Emails Again to Rebut My Previous Blog

Ryanair Boeing 737

Ryanair Boeing 737

On Friday I posted an email I received from Ryanair. I very much enjoyed the email and the interaction with Stephen McNamara, Head of Communications with Ryanair.

In the comments of the blog, I was asked how I replied to his email. I thought about a long reply, but settled on just thanking him for connecting with me and that I have corrected my blog. I was kind of hoping he would read the post I made and oh boy did he!

Here is his (unedited) email I received on Friday morning:

Hi David

While I  contacted the Seattle pi I will not be keeping a line of communication open with your blog – no disrespect but I simply don’t have the time (or resources) to correct the errors most bloggers come up with – but as you said, you have never flown with Ryanair so perhaps you are unaware that:

1.      They provide sub-par customer service (and are almost proud of it) – Wrong. Ryanair has the best on-time record, the least lost bags and the fewest cancelations of any major European airline.

2.      charge for everything – Wrong.  Ryanair allows passenger to avoid paying for any of the services that are factored into the cost of high fare tickets, the average fare with Ryanair (which includes a 25KG baggage allowance) is just €32 – compared to the next cheapest airline at €60.

3.      fly to smaller airports.  Wrong.  In some cases we do, but we also fly to many main airports (e.g. Berlin, Edinburgh, London and Madrid etc) and passengers, especially those who travel frequently realise that it is more comfortable and quicker to travel through smaller airports – while it also allows for cheaper fares which passengers would walk over hot coals to get to.

4.      but are one of the most popular airlines in the world – Wrong (but almost correct).  We are the world’s favourite airline per IATA statistics which show that Ryanair carried more international scheduled passengers than any other airline last year.

5.      They charge customers to call their customer service hotline – Wrong.  We don’t have a customer service hotline; passengers can contact customer service in writing only.

6.      and are well known for almost never giving refunds. Wrong.  While our fights are non-refundable we do provide refunds in rare cases of weather related cancelation (per EU 261 legislation) and in cases where they are entitled to a refund of government taxes and charges.  However, if a passenger is looking for a refund because their cat/dog/grandmother is sick they are not entitled to one, and won’t get one – per the Terms and Conditions they agreed to.

7.      Yet, they provide super low fares and passengers keep flying them. Correct – almost, it should really say and an increasing number of passengers fly them – Ryanair continues to grow thanks to our low fares while other airlines’ passenger numbers continue to collapse.

But I guess I can let you have that one – one out of seven ain’t bad – for a blogger!

Ryanair does ‘understand’ social media and that blogs are generally based on opinion (which is why we generally ignore them – unless they appear somewhere like the Seattle PI).  Far be it from me to preach on new media but like good journalists good blogs should be balanced and at least factual – if a blogger wants to blog about something by all means go ahead but if people are going to take the time to read a blog they should be confident that the blogger at least knows the facts and matches those facts with the entertainment value a blog provides.

Finally, re “I have updated my blog, but in my defense, major news organizations were covering this, like the BBC for example.”  Ryanair was contacted by the BBC and provided a statement which was carried in the piece and explained the situation – this however did not make it into your blog – which is why we contacted the Seattle PI – bloggers can not just take a story that entertains them and omit the facts – as you clearly did in this case.  Major news organisations provided balance, when you picked up the story from their sites you ignored that balance.

Regards

Stephen McNamara
Head of Communications

Ha! 1 out of 7 or about 14% right (according to Ryanair). Surprised I got the “Ryanair is one of the most popular airlines in the world” wrong.  How about the most famous Irish airline in the US or at least on my blog? Now most of the rebuttals are questionable and I know McNamara is doing his PR job to put the positive spin on his airline.

Like I have said, I have never flown them before, so not sure how to respond to these. For those of you who have flown them, care to add your opinion on his email?

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Image: skippyscage

RYANAIR SPEAKS – I get an email from Stephen McNamara, Head of Communications with Ryanair

Ryanair out does themselves this time!

Ryanair out does themselves this time!

I love Ryanair. Personally I have never flown them, but I have absolute respect for what they are able to accomplish. They provide sub-par customer service (and are almost proud of it), charge for everything, fly to smaller airports, but are one of the most popular airlines in the world. They charge customers to call their customer service hotline and are well known for almost never giving refunds. Yet, they provide super low fares and passengers keep flying them. I talk over and over again how powerful this business model is and how someday it might come to the United States. Passengers complain about bad service and fees, but they keep dealing with it, as long as they get the cheapest fare. How can we hold Ryanair responsible if people are willing to pay? I can’t, but I sure can blog about their shenanigans.

Ryanair will announce crazy things and sit around while the world media talks about it and gives them free press. I know I am guilty of this as well, but they provide such great material. Trying to get a comment from them, especially as a blogger, is nearly impossible. I have tried to make contact with Ryanair on multiple occasions with no luck.

This is why I was so giddy to see an email from Stephen McNamara, Head of Communications for Ryanair, in my inbox this morning. Yes, it goes to insult my integrity as a blogger, but man oh man, it was a welcomed surprise. Ryanair was actually talking to me…something not many bloggers can say!

So where to start?

A while back I blogged about Ryanair ditching passengers at a wrong destination with no help. Looks like I might have been wrong and I for that. I stated that due to weather, the Ryanair flight was diverted to Fuerteventura and then took off leaving the passengers stranded. McNamara corrects me:

“Ryanair flight FR 6766 Bournemouth – Lanzarote (17 Feb) diverted to Fuerteventura due to bad weather in Lanzarote. Ferries between the islands, which are used for the onward transportation of passengers in such cases, were also affected by high winds so passengers were provided with EU261 information which outlines their entitlement to provide receipted hotel expenses to Ryanair, for refund. Ryanair arranged ferries to carry affected Ryanair passengers to Lanzarote free of charge when ferries recommenced the following morning. Ryanair apologises to passengers for any inconvenience caused but can never put passenger convenience before passenger safety.”

No problem! I have recently heard from other sources that it seems there was one very unhappy passenger that turned this small story into Ryanair bashing. I have updated my blog, but in my defense, major news organizations were covering this, like the BBC for example.

Ok enough of the background information, let’s get to the fun parts of the blog. McNamara actually didn’t email me directly at first, but wrote to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, where my blog is syndicated. The syndication just pulls my RSS feed and they have no responsibility for my content, so passed the message on to me. In his first email McNamara states, “This blogger clearly likes to express his opinion without undertaking any research (to the detriment of professional bloggers who research their pieces and do not simply type the first stupid idea that comes into their head) I ask that this blog be removed.” Haha, that’s right, he said, “stupid idea,” man I love Ryanair. You know, writing about stupid and crazy ideas like charging for bathrooms, talking about “BJ’s” on flights, letting passengers smoke, making passengers stand to fly, and many more.

If I got this email from any other airline I would be horrified. I always try to keep positive when talking about airlines and have a professional relationships with the airlines I work with. Getting this from Ryanair is a total compliment in my mind. They are the elusive airline, that any blogger would love to have communication with. They are well known for brushing off bloggers as a waste of time. To know that McNamara is actually reading my blog and enough to write two emails responding to it… all I can say is, how awesome.

The Seattle PI, very professionally let McNamara know that they have no control over my content and since I am an independent blogger, he needs to write me directly. McNamara’s didn’t like that so much and wrote to both of us. His reply is so priceless, I just have to post the whole thing:

“Your answer is less than satisfactory and it is a damming indictment of the Seattlepi.com that you would allow clearly incorrect and biased information appear and remain on your site – brushing this off as an issue for the publisher is simply rubbish – it is on your site, you are the publisher.

If you were contacted by a reader over an article which contained racist or foul language for example, I am sure you would have the power to remove or edit the piece. Far from this simply being an issue for the independent publisher it is also your responsibility, as the site hosting the information. You are responsible for what appears on you site – David simply writes his opinions, as he is entitled to do – your site allows that opinion to be broadcast to the world.

I have cc’d this to David as instructed – however this underlines how irresponsible blogging and irresponsible hosting of such blogs, which fail to look at facts but simply provide biased opinion, undermines the worth of all blogs – to the detriment of those bloggers who display journalistic integrity and provide balance.

Regards

Stephen McNamara
Head of Communications”

Classic :). What is great is there is no comment about any of my other Ryanair posts or my Crazier Than Ryanair Medal, which I have plenty. I am hoping this means McNamara is open for me emailing him directly to “research” any future blogs I write about Ryanair — I am good with that.

Orig Image: Gerry Hill

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