Ryanair Is Flayed Over Response to In-Flight Racism Incident

Thom Weidlich 10.25.18


You have to feel a little sorry for airlines. When they have a customer crisis, it’s usually on a plane filled with passengers wielding video-capturing devices. The incident goes viral, and not in a good way. The latest episode is brought to us by Ryanair. The company’s performance did not soar.

For an Oct. 19 flight on the budget airline from Barcelona to London, Delsie Gayle, a 77-year-old Jamaican-born black woman with arthritis, was pre-boarded into her aisle seat. When the other passengers arrived, she had to make way for a large white man assigned to the window seat. She moved slowly, which apparently riled the man, since identified as 75-year-old David Mesher.

Once seated, Mesher berated her, calling her a “stupid, ugly cow” and an “ugly black bastard.” He accused her of speaking a foreign language, when she was speaking English with an accent.

Racist Ryanair Passenger Abuses Black Woman

A racist Ryanair passenger refuses to sit next to an elderly black womanA video uploaded yesterday to Facebook by David Lawrence, captures an older white man yelling racist insults such as "YOU UGLY BLACK BASTARD," at an elderly black woman sitting in the same row on a Ryanair flight. He continues to even threaten to push the woman off her seat if she doesn't move. The woman was relocated to another seat and the man was allowed to continue on his journey. Lawrence took to social media to highlight Ryanair "turning a blind eye" to the racial abuse and allowing the man to stay on the plane. How would you have dealt with this situation?

Posted by A Fly Guy's Cabin Crew Lounge on Saturday, October 20, 2018

The inevitable video (taken by passenger David Lawrence) goes on for minutes and has been viewed by millions and used in countless news reports. The video makes clear the crew didn’t do much about the situation. A passenger sitting behind the quarrelers (pictured) was more proactive in his attempts to intervene.

The crew didn’t force Mesher to move and didn’t remove him from the flight (though there were shouts for that). Instead, they eventually relocated Gayle, the woman.

Operational Handling

Crises often don’t warn you they’re coming. That was the case here. But clearly flight crews are trained to respond to such all-too-common incidents, though maybe not at Ryanair? The company came under fire for its operational handling of the situation.

Its “communication” was just as bad. As far as we can tell, to date Ryanair has put out only one tweet, which, as others have pointed out, is puny even by Twitter standards: “Statement: We are aware of this video and have reported this matter to Essex Police.”

That was posted at 9 a.m. London time on Oct. 21 — two days after the event. Does Ryanair have flight-crises fatigue? It waspreparing to release its disappointing earnings on Oct. 22.

The public reaction has been unforgiving. “Such a lazily written response … You need a new PR department,” one person wrote on Twitter. “You guys basically stood back and allowed a woman to be racially abused on one of your flights,” wrote another.

The Washington Post‘s headline: “Ryanair: Passenger’s Racist Tirade Offers Case Study for Airlines on How Not to Deal With a PR Disaster.”

Sensitivity Training

It’s fair to compare the situation (as some Twitter commenters have) to how Starbucks handled its racism incidentin April. CEO Kevin Johnson traveled to Philadelphia, where it occurred, and Starbucks shut down every company-owned location for a half-day of sensitivity training. Here, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has been missing in action.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that Ryanair had yet to apologize to Gayle, according to her daughter, who was also on the flight.

Ryanair’s silence on this episode has been astounding. It is not the way to respond to such a crisis.

Photo Credit: David Lawrence via Facebook

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