Ryanair, one of the most successful low-cost carriers globally — often referred to as the “bad boy” of European airlines is headed by Michael O’Leary. His mantra is simple; “Short of committing murder, negative publicity sells more seats than positive publicity.”
Every time a law suit is thrown at Ryanair, its management milks every marketing mile from the opportunity.
O’Leary who believes that advertising agencies are useless and marketing companies a waste of money, is other than being the chief executive officer also head of marketing at the airline.
Ryanair came to mind when I read an article last week in our sister publication, Business Daily, on a disabled doctor who has decided to sue a Kenyan low-cost airline for discrimination.
When the alleged incident of discrimination took place a few months ago, there was public outrage. And it did not help matters that the passenger involved in the incident is physically challenged. The airline was judged and condemned in the court of public opinion.
However, reading the basis of the lawsuit as per the newspaper article which was indicated as discrimination, I was left wondering whether this will just be another occasion where such a case attracts media attention to the advantage of the airline with no positive outcome for the aggrieved passenger.
The other point was that this was not the first time for the airline to be sued on almost similar grounds of discrimination.
Frequently flyers can attest to the number of times they have felt like suing airlines for unannounced schedule changes, flight delays and tarmac delays, cancellations, missed connections, denied boarding, to lost luggage or pilfered baggage.
In fact, there are times when I have wondered if the airlines go out of their way to give their customers reasons to sue them.
But what gives airlines such bravado when everyone else quivers in their boots at the prospect of being sued?
Aviation is one of the most regulated industries, and these regulations are drawn from internationally accepted and ratified conventions by member countries under the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
ICAO conventions form the modus operandi for over 260 airlines and over 100 countries globally under industry associations like the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that govern the operations of airlines.
So regulated is the industry that every action by an airline or related service provider however routine, has a procedure. These procedures, insensitive as they might seem to the layman, are for the safety and security of air transport.
Airlines and industry service providers strive to act within these regulations — as inconveniencing as they may seem to passengers — and nothing will make them do the contrary.
One might ask where this leaves passengers who tend to be victims of “insensitive airlines.” Other than the United States and the European Union which have over time developed strong and effective aviation consumer protection laws, most African governments have weak if no such laws.
The absence of or weak consumer protection laws on the continent or regionally is the bedrock of the quagmire airline passengers find themselves in.
Narrowing down to the subject at hand, there is a valid reason why both the EU and the US have laws guarding the travel rights of people with reduced mobility over and above the provisions of IATA on Acceptations and Carriage of Incapacitated Passengers.
All airlines registered in these territories or those that originate or terminate their journeys in the EU and US must comply with these laws.
Airline consumer protection laws aside, passengers need to be aware that provisions of industry regulations on duties of airlines on one hand and responsibilities of airports on the other are very clear and distinct as far as travelling with reduced mobility goes.
The provisions on embarkment and disembarkment of such passengers are very clear and go to the extent of defining who should provide what service in such circumstances.
Awareness of regulation is not limited to those travelling with disability but even in areas like flight delays, loss of baggage, compensation for injury or loss of life while travelling.
Until the hand of regional governments and civil aviation authorities is forced by consumer protection legislation, airlines will continue to exploit lawsuits for marketing mileage at the expense of passengers.
This post was earlier published in The East African Magazine December 24, 2016 Air travel rules come before any airline passenger wishes