How should your organization fight back when it’s the target of spurious allegations?
RyanAir, the discount airline based in Ireland, was the target of photo, posted on social media, showing its employees sleeping on an airport floor. The original posts said the employees were stranded in Spain and that the airline didn’t provide hotel accommodations.
It implied the airline was being cheap in refusing to lodge employees adequately.
This is a Ryanair 737 crew based in Portugal, stranded in Malaga, Spain a couple of nights ago due to storms. They are sleeping on the floor of the Ryanair crew room. RYR is earning €1.25 billion this year but will not put stranded crews in a hotel for the night. @peterbellew ? pic.twitter.com/lILWZVqqGj
— Jim Atkinson (@Jimbaba) October 14, 2018
In October, the union alleged the staff had no access to food, drink and were forced to sleep on the floor.
“The stranded Crew, in a gesture of protest, took a photo that immediately became viral: Laying on the floor was the only option to rest; their “suitable accommodation,” SNPVAC said in a statement released in October.
Ryanair says the staffers spent only a short period of time in the crew room before being moved to a VIP lounge
The carrier said “hotels were fully booked” because of a national holiday.
RyanAir later obtained security camera video of the employees staging the photo—and the carrier’s social media team shared it online:
Ryanair exposes fake photo of cabin crew sleeping in crew room. Watch video here: pic.twitter.com/tzTn6EHsKH
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) October 17, 2018
The company sacked six employees involved in taking the photo, alleging they had harmed the airline’s reputation.
However, RyanAir’s video release may not have helped its cause. The security video still paints a stark picture for airline crew members stuck in an airport.
On Twitter, some have sided with the employees:
Your crew were left stranded in an airport overnight. On plastic chairs with a light turned off in the corner of a room and refused hotels because of your incompetence.
No wonder they faked a photo you morons. Nice PR lmao
— Lux (@Callux) October 17, 2018
Everyone already KNEW it was a protest picture you knuckleheads! The fact remains: you stranded FOUR CREWS in an airport terminal for the night and made no discernible attempt to find them proper lodging or even food and water!
— Jim Atkinson (@Jimbaba) October 17, 2018
Thanks for the video @Ryanair @Ryanair_ES it will be used to demonstrate that crew were left in crew room seated on some chairs the whole night against FTL. @instrabajoyss This video also shows how the airline use confidential video of its workers abandoned in an office
— USO Sector Aéreo (@USOAereo) October 17, 2018
Others are siding with the airline:
After seeing the video footage showing this photo being staged I am absolutely not surprised that Ryanair dismissed those involved. Their actions, whether intended or not, have caused irreparable damage to Ryanair’s reputation. #ryanair #dismissal #emplawhttps://t.co/PnTwV0mu7y
— Kerry Gardiner (@empbarrister) November 7, 2018
The recent controversy comes after a spate of incidents for the airline.
Ryanair has been at the center of controversies in recent months.
In September, roughly 2,000 employees of the budget airline, including cabin crew in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, walked out for 24 hours in a long-running dispute over pay and labor contracts. The move resulted in Ryanair canceling 250 flights across Europe.
In October, the airline faced criticism after allowing a passenger who directed a racist rant at a black elderly woman to stay on the flight from Barcelona to London. Many people criticized the company for switching the woman’s seat and not removing the man — who was yelling and cursing — from the plane. A week after the incident, the airline moved to distance itself from the backlash.
Union representation for the airline workers disputes RyanAir’s version of the most recent flap.
The SNPVAC union, which represents Portuguese airline crews, alleged that 24 Ryanair crew members were forced to spend the night on the airport floor without access to food or water.
[…] “This is Porto crew last night stranded on the floor of Malaga crew room. They were diverted due to the storm and the company left them there,” the caption reads.
SNPVAC added in a statement on Facebook that crew were left “without the minimum legal requirements for suitable accommodation, with no access to food or drinks and with only enough seats for 1/3 of the people there”.
[…]”Ryanair was the only company that couldn’t provide their customers and their employees suitable accommodation.
“The stranded crew, in a gesture of protest, took a photo that immediately became viral. Laying on the floor was the only option to rest; their ‘suitable accommodation’.”
Here are three lessons from RyanAir’s crisis communications efforts:
1. Offer your own evidence.
Releasing the CCTV footage of employees staging the photo was essential for backing up RyanAir’s story. If the company had just fired the employees, without publicly demonstrating any wrongdoing, it would have immediately lost the public argument.
The video defense might not have gone far enough. It did not demonstrate a crew enjoying a comfortable environment—and some critics weren’t swayed by the move.
2. Sometimes less is more.
Although posting the video of the employees faking their social media post might have been gratifying, the outcome is mixed and the story has gained visibility. It was mostly a local story before, covering an internal struggle between employees and management. Once the story became about employees’ faking a social media post, it tapped into more universal questions about digital information and authenticity.
Your response can keep a story alive—or shorten its shelf life. In crisis communications, the latter is almost always preferable.
3. Remember you can’t win them all.
Not everyone can be convinced, and some critics will badmouth your organization no matter what facts you present. It can be tempting to argue your position at every possible turn—especially if you believe you are in the right—but it’s important to remember that some will never be swayed.
What do you think of RyanAir’s crisis communications effort, PR Daily readers?