Ryanair seems to be subject to criticism on a weekly basis, however, recent revelations on Channel 4's Dispatches programme are amongst the most damaging yet.
In a recent article for the Huffington Post, our client Hill Dickinson discusses allegations that Ryanair prioritised profits over safety after the Dispatches programme, Ryanair: Secrets from the Cockpit, featured interviews with four Ryanair pilots, one who was identifiable, in which they spoke of concerns about the airline's fuel policy and working conditions. The article brilliantly illustrates not only the legal implications of making claims that can be viewed as defamatory, but also the resulting reputational damage of taking action against damaging claims.
In the not-so-distant past, Ryanair has been accused, and indeed encouraged, a whole manner of criticisms that would leave other consumer companies squirming. From outrageous proposals from Chief Executive, Michael O'Leary that he would like to charge passengers a £1 to use the loo, to countless passenger horror stories that O'Leary has an obvious disdain for, Ryanair may not be likeable but it is profitable.
In light of Secrets from the cockpit though, O'Leary is clearly worried about the airline's profitability and future. While Ryanair can withstand criticism surrounding the comfort of flights, safety is another issue; sacrificing comfort for a cheaper flight may be acceptable for the majority of us, but very few would play with our safety for the sake of a few pounds, and it is this muddy perception Ryanair is vigorously trying to prevent sticking.
In her blog, Katie Mickleburgh, Solicitor at Hill Dickinson, advises the following:
"One of the main considerations I encourage a corporate entity to consider is how the litigation itself will reflect on its reputation. Will taking action create a wider audience for the defamatory material than it already enjoys? Will members of the public see it as a big bad corporation trying to smother freedom of speech in an unequal legal conquest, particularly if the defendant is a private individual with limited resources?"
In this instance, we agree with Katie that Ryanair has no choice - as O'Leary correctly says “any airline can only survive on a reputation of safety”.
Standing outside of Belfast High Court, O'Leary continued:
"Generally speaking we are content to allow the media or anybody else to make whatever claims they want but not inaccurate claims about our safety. We must and will continue to vigorously defend our outstanding safety record."
And ‘vigorously defend' is what he must do. Otherwise, there's every chance the seed that has been planted by Dispatches will germinate into something wild, unruly, and perhaps mark the demise of UK's most hated but used airline.
What are your thoughts on Rynair's stance toward its reputation? Do you think the company's response is appropriate in light of these accusations or are they simply courting more negative and damaging by taking legal action? We always love to hear your thoughts, so don't be a stranger and leave us a comment below.