Ryanair dominates the headlines when media discuss low-cost flying

Ryanair is being talked about far more online than other budget airlines, claims latest research commissioned by PRmoment looking at UK coverage of Ryanair, Easyjet, Bmibaby, Flybe and Monarch. Ryanair has more coverage than the other airlines put together at 55 per cent, while Easyjet’s percentage of the stories is 32 per cent. It is no surprise that Ryanair and Easyjet dominate online stories with the amount of publicity these airlines generate, while information about Monarch, Flybe and Bmibaby combined comes in at just 13 per cent of the coverage. 

Supplied by Echo Research

Although many news stories like to focus on bad news (as is traditional for all news), generally online discussions of the airlines is balanced in around 70 per cent of stories. Ryanair does not manage to achieve any positive coverage at all – which compares rather poorly to the 11 per cent of positive coverage that Easyjet achieves. Also, Ryanair is complained about in 23 per cent of stories, which again makes it look worse than Easyjet which scores 15 per cent of negative stories.

Ryanair and Easyjet’s coverage largely concerns charges and costs. Confusing fares being one subject the newspapers like to focus on. For example, at guardian.co.uk on 31 July, one story about Easyjet complains that the airline is “penalising those reckless enough to spawn children”. And at timesonline.co.uk on 9 Aug a piece describes how “Ryanair and other low-cost airlines are now more expensive on some short-haul routes than British Airways”, continuing to explain that: “A survey of flights to popular European destinations identified 10 on which it is more expensive to fly with Ryanair than British Airways, because BA includes as standard many of the services for which the low-cost airline charges extra.”

Another recent Ryanair story that is picked up by many online sites is about whether passengers will be happy to stand on some flights. On its own site, ryan.com on 22 July, Ryanair publishes the results of an online poll that claims that 64 per cent of over 120,000 passengers polled believe that they should have a choice of standing on short flights. The story quotes Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara, who says: “With 120,000 passengers voting and 80,000 saying they would stand on board, Ryanair will continue to explore the concept of ‘fare free standing’ flights with Boeing and the relevant aviation authorities in the US and EU”.

Ian Bradley, board director at travel industry PR specialists Travel PR, says that despite that fact that budget airlines’ press coverage is mainly unfavourable, airline executives must: “rub their hands with glee every time they open a paper and see all that free publicity.” He adds: “Do they care that it’s typically doom-and-gloom stories? Absolutely not, Michael O’Leary would sell his granny to get column inches and he must be delighted that the media would report on him opening a letter, never mind a new route.”

Supplied by Echo Research

Bradley believes that most airlines do a good job of publicising themselves, but don’t get coverage because “stories of little old ladies stuck in some WW2 airfield in the middle of nowhere makes a much better angle.” However, Bradley says that budget airlines have no concerns about these hard-luck stories as most readers realise that an unfortunate delay can happen when travelling and that such incidents are relatively few and far between. He says, “Budget airline work on the premise that people will take their chances with a low fare and put up with any hardship as an occupational hazard.”

Talking from personal experience, Bradley says that on the two occasions he has had cause to go to Ryanair looking for a refund due to his own mistake, both times his money was refunded without question. He points out that this sort of thing happens all the time but isn’t widely reported: “Why? Two reasons, firstly it’s not a good story for readers and secondly, the airlines don’t want the coverage because if word got out that they sometimes have a heart, imagine the chaos of everybody seeking refunds.”

Mostly, Flybe, Bmibaby, and Monarch seem to fly under the radar of major news sites, but they have made some headlines in the last three months. Monarch hit the news with threats of a strike in May, with sky.com on 23 May reporting: “Thousands of British holidaymakers face summer holiday chaos after a strike threat by charter flight giant Monarch”. Worryingly for some, Flybe has recently been making news for technical reasons, with an article at bbc.co.uk on 10 August describing how a Flybe plane had to make an emergency landing at Exeter Airport when a computer warning indicated “a minor technical fault“. The smaller cheap airlines tend to be of more interest to specialist sites. One site, flyingabroad.co.uk, includes such news as Flybe launching new Leeds to Gatwick flights (30 May) and details of Bmibaby’s winter flight schedule (16 May).
The airlines are reticent to discuss how the online media have been covering them, although a spokesperson from Easyjet gives the comment: “Easyjet is a highly professional organisation that values its reputation and its customer service.” The media may not always be in agreement, but journalists generally prefer to write about bad news, if they can.

Methodology

PRmoment asked Echo Sonar to analyse UK online media coverage of low-cost airlines Easyjet, Ryanair, Flybe, Bmibaby and Monarch. The research period was 12 May to 11 August. Metrics included share of voice, tonality assessment and volume of media topics.