Ryanair said Tuesday it would fight a 550,000-euro (S$850,245) fine imposed by Italy's anti-trust body for running customer service lines that charged premium rates but rarely resolved passengers' problems.
"We note the ruling and have instructed our lawyers to appeal," the Irish airline said in a statement. The fine follows an investigation launched in June 2014 which resulted in the budget airline being given 90 days to end the "extreme difficulty" and high costs faced by passengers trying to reach a Ryanair employee to discuss their bookings.
The anti-trust body AGCM said most of the complaints it had received were from people who had found it difficult and unreasonably expensive to obtain reimbursements or alternative flights in the event of cancellations and get detailed bills for tax/expenses purposes. Customers also complained that it was difficult to change bookings prior to flights and get information about arrangements for passengers in wheelchairs.
The competition authority acknowledged that Ryanair had partly addressed some of the issues raised by getting rid of a premium phone number for passengers requiring assistance with boarding, reducing the cost of its main customer service line and introducing customer support via online chat.
These steps were not deemed sufficient to avoid a fine although the authority said the amount imposed reflected Ryanair's efforts to improve customer service.
The fine is a setback for Ryanair's attempts to improve its reputation for customer service through its three-year Always Getting Better programme.
Launched last year, the initiative has seen the airline act to reduce the 'hassle' factor involved in its flights by introducing allocated seating, relaxing restrictions on cabin baggage and slashing charges for printing boarding cards at check-in desks.
The goal of such moves was famously summed up by company CEO Michael O'Leary when he said the airline had to "stop unnecessarily pissing people off." The strategy has appeared to be working with Ryanair recently announcing a 32 per cent increase in profit for the six month to September 2014.
O'Leary, who once described customers who forgot to print their own boarding cards as "idiots", ascribed the improvement to "being nicer to people."
It is the second time in less than a year that the Irish carrier has been fined by the AGCM. In February 2014 it was ordered to pay 850,000 euros for mis-selling travel insurance on its website.
The regulator ruled that the company was not providing would-be purchasers of coverage with sufficient information, offering a product with disproportionately high excess charges and imposing administrative fees for refunds which were greater than the insurance itself.