Rewriting Ryanair: when crisis hits, is your web content up to the job?

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Your website is a crucial element in good crisis management. It's where you can share helpful, accurate information and show concern for the people affected. Unless you're Ryanair and have announced a second wave of flight cancellations which will hit 400,000 passengers.

But what's wrong with their approach, exactly - and how could they make it more effective?

What we're talking about here is the page Winter Schedule Changes, which is where you'd expect to find information on Ryanair's latest flight cancellations. As someone who has long marvelled at the way contempt for the passenger is woven into all their communications, I didn't have high expectations. And it didn't disappoint! It was so bad, it made me laugh. But rather than just writing a snarky tweet, I wanted to explain why.

It's the user needs, stupid

So let’s start with the goal of any web page, which should be to give the reader what they need. It's about them, not you.

Let’s say, for an example, that I have a flight booked on 15 December for some pre-Christmas lolz with family in Dublin and my cute niece. She’s two-and-a-half, knows her own mind (paddling pools, yes; theremins, avoid) and wears groovy sunglasses. I’m starting to think about what presents I can squeeze in my hand luggage too, after an incident on 11 September last year when my baby weaning gifts triggered a security alert at Stansted, and hereafter became known as Auntie Sue’s Terrorist Spoons.

So. What I care about right now is one basic thing: is my flight cancelled? That's user need number one.

My secondary need is information about the options for refunds or rebooking, but right now I’m wondering if I need to make alternative plans for Christmas. 

But what I get is this:

Ouch. Where do we start? Well, here’s a list of things I don’t care about:

  • That Ryanair is Europe’s largest airline

  • That it is slowing its growth

  • That it has 400 aircraft in its fleet

  • That the changes will affect fewer than 1% of passengers (and yes, fellow pedants, it’s fewer and not less)

There are several things Ryanair should do instead:

  • Acknowledge the problem and say sorry

  • Show sympathy for those affected

  • Offer a means of solving the problem

  • Not spell there wrong. I mean, c’mon.

So let’s rewrite that introductory paragraph so it addresses customers and their concerns.

We’re very sorry to announce that there will be a small number of cancellations to Ryanair’s flights this winter. We’re doing all we can to resolve the situation and keep you updated.

If your flight is affected, you will receive an email explaining how to book an alternative flight or gain a full refund. We’ll also send you a travel voucher for a free flight.

We don't need no FAQs page

Next up, after this unhelpful corporate waffle, are the FAQs. Brilliant. Except that on an information page you don’t need an FAQ section.

After the intro you can just go straight into helpful advice, with clear, simple sub-headings. You shouldn’t be asking users to find a button to reveal the content of each section either; it should all be displayed in one go for easy scrolling.

At least the headings match the questions passengers have in their heads: what to do if their flight is cancelled, how to change a flight or get a refund.

The content here could be much more effective if it:

  • was written much more simply (with fewer brackets for example)

  • had descriptive links rather than ‘Click here’

  • front-loaded the information so the important bits are first, to help highlight the essential points to all the frustrated passengers scanning the page

  • cut out the redundant phrases which simply repeat headings.

But hang on a second, how about my number one need, which is to find out if my flight is cancelled or not?

A page called Ryanair Winter Schedule Changes contains – guess what – zero information on Ryanair’s winter schedule changes. There was a section in the FAQs, which, when you clicked on the button, revealed….nothing. Totally empty. Almost as if it was pointless being there. And since I’ve started writing this post it’s disappeared completely...

Update 29 September 2017: But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? A list of Ryanair winter schedule changes has appeared on the Ryanair Winter Schedule Changes page! Oh...

Will Ryanair ever get me to Dublin? Stay tuned for potential rants on Twitter...

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