June 22, 2017

Ryanair Promises to Improve Customer Service

The Irish airline said it would overhaul the way it communicates and be more lenient about fining customers over luggage sizes.

“We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily” irritate people, Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, said at the company’s annual meeting after several shareholders complained about the impact of customer service on sales.

He said the airline would overhaul its Web site, set up a new team to respond to e-mail and stop fining customers whose carry-on baggage exceeded maximum sizes by a matter of millimeters.

“A lot of those customer-services elements don’t cost a lot of money,” Mr. O’Leary said. “It’s something we are committed to addressing over the coming year.”

While Ryanair’s focus on cost-cutting has helped it to grow — it flew more scheduled international passengers last year than any other airline — shareholders said the company’s reputation for poor customer service was limiting its room for growth.

“I have seen people crying at boarding gates,” said Owen O’Reilly, a shareholder. “There is simply something wrong there that needs to be addressed.”

Mr. O’Leary, who for years has played down such complaints, citing statistics about revenue growth and on-time departures, nodded as other shareholders told anecdotes about being verbally attacked at dinner parties and having family members who refused to fly Ryanair.

“I am very happy to take the blame or responsibility if we have a macho or abrupt culture,” he said. “Some of that may well be my own personal character deformities.”

Mr. O’Leary said he was personally irritated by the fact that some Ryanair employees fined customers when their carry-on baggage was slightly above the maximum size. He said management would now be encouraging staff members to be more lenient.

“If it’s a millimeter over size, get on with it,” he said. “We are not trying to penalize people for the sake of a millimeter.”

A front-page headline in an Irish newspaper the morning of the shareholder meeting said, “Ryanair sinks to new low,” after a Dublin surgeon was charged 188 euros ($254) to reschedule a flight days after his entire family was killed in a fire in England.

Mr. O’Leary apologized, said the customer’s money would be refunded and promised to deal more quickly with similar cases in the future.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/business/global/ryanair-promises-to-improve-customer-service.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Boss: Kevin Robert Frost of amfAR, on Joining the AIDS Fight

When my dad returned, we moved to San Antonio. I consider that my childhood home because I was there from fourth grade through high school.

My mother said I had musical talent from an early age. I recall how my parents used to stand me on the center of the dining room table at dinner parties to sing for their guests. In high school, I performed in musical productions and as a tenor soloist for America’s Youth in Concert when the group sang at Carnegie Hall. I also auditioned for Juilliard, which offered me a scholarship. But I decided to remain in Texas for college and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in music.

After working as the musical director of a Dallas theater company, I moved to New York in 1990 to pursue a career as an opera singer. While in Texas, I had seen “The Normal Heart,” a play by Larry Kramer about an AIDS activist, so I was already aware of the AIDS crisis. But New York felt like a war zone to me as a gay man. The city seemed to be plastered with posters about H.I.V., particularly in Greenwich Village, and the activist organization Act Up/NY was working to draw attention to AIDS.

While auditioning for roles in opera and musical theater, I got a job working in the classical music section at Tower Records. Larry Kramer came in late one night, and while helping him I told him how moved I had been by his play. He looked at me and said: “Really? So what are you doing about it? If you really want to do something, come and join us at Act Up.”

He was right — I had to get involved. I joined the committee that studied the science behind AIDS and reported back to the group. I was also an assistant for an ophthalmologist who started a research program at what is now the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center to study cytomegalovirus retinitis, an eye infection that people with AIDS sometimes get. I worked part time on that project and on others dealing with various infections associated with AIDS.

As an activist, I often talked to Dr. Ellen Cooper at the Food and Drug Administration, who had overseen the approval of AZT, the first AIDS drug. After leaving the F.D.A., Dr. Cooper went to work for amfAR, and in 1994 she hired me as her assistant. I rose through the ranks and became C.E.O. in 2007.

Today, we’re at the most interesting and opportune time in the history of the epidemic, but it’s the most perilous as well. Research has given us some spectacular advances. We now have extraordinary tools at our disposal, including a microbicide that reduces a woman’s risk of acquiring H.I.V. and a pill that helps prevent its acquisition in gay men.

When you combine these advances with what we know about the effectiveness of condoms, of male circumcision and of providing clean syringes to addicts for preventing transmission of the disease, we can radically change the face of the epidemic. But it takes money to distribute these tools. At amfAR, we’re directing 60 percent of our research grants to finding a cure.

A friend once said that if one person has AIDS it’s a tragedy, but when more than 33 million people are infected globally it’s just a statistic. For me the epidemic is personal; it’s not abstract. I’ve lost too many friends to AIDS. But I remain optimistic.

I haven’t given up on music. When this epidemic ends — and I believe we can end it in my lifetime — I’ll be able to pursue it again.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7f0d69938e7c4dd0409dac6ce565c1bf

For Strong and Weak, Debt Pressures Rattle Europe

Come to Switzerland.

An avalanche of dollars and euros has been tumbling into this Alpine outpost at record rates, as investors see the franc as a haven from the twin debt crises in the United States and Europe. And the Swiss are not happy about it.

On Wednesday, the typically silent Swiss central bank declared the currency “massively overvalued” against the dollar and euro, and unexpectedly cut interest rates in an attempt to weaken the franc. The franc retreated slightly but is still too strong, as far as the Swiss are concerned.

“The franc is like the new gold,” said a Geneva banker who would give only his first name, Dmitri, insisting on the discretion that is the hallmark of this reserved nation. “It’s crazy and it’s all anyone is talking about, in the morning, at lunch, at dinner parties.”

It was certainly Topic A at the noon lunch hour recently in Geneva, where Dmitri and other dark-suited bankers had emerged from the doors of Credit Suisse, UBS, Goldman Sachs and many other wealthy banks to perch near the broad expanse of Lake Geneva to chew on grilled fish and the issues of the day.

Switzerland is vaunted as a country that attracts money for its secretive bank accounts and the less savory business of tax evasion. But it is also the home of “le franc fort,” a muscular currency long seen as second perhaps only to the dollar because this nation — unlike some others — tends to have its finances in order.

Now the Swiss franc is  second no more.

Despite the passage at long last of a Washington deal to lift America’s debt ceiling, the dollar recently plunged to record lows against the Swiss franc on fears the American economy will slow further.

Even after the Swiss central bank’s announcement, the dollar was trading at 77 Swiss centimes, down about a third from the level of a year ago.

The euro has fared little better. As Europe succumbed to its own debt troubles last year, the franc took off against the euro. Now, as the latest European bailout for Greece fails to shield big countries like Italy and Spain from the credit contagion, the franc remains strong against the euro.

Despite the Swiss central bank’s Wednesday move, a euro will buy 1.10 Swiss francs — far less than the 1.38 francs that a euro was worth a year ago.

With the rest of the world so untidy, Switzerland looks pristine. Despite a generous safety net, this tiny nation does not have other onerous expenses, like a big military. Its current account surplus is an enviable 15 percent of gross domestic product, and it has low debt. The economy grew 2.6 percent last year; unemployment is around 3 percent.

Still, while it is easy for Switzerland to lure other people’s money, there may be such a thing as too much of it. Even for the Swiss.

The Swiss central bank sought to tamp down demand on Wednesday by narrowing its target band for a key rate, the 3-month Libor, to 0.00-0.25 percent from 0.00-0.75 percent to fight the franc’s appreciation.

Authorities declared they “won’t tolerate” a “tightening of monetary conditions,” and would take further steps as necessary to curb the franc’s rise.

The cost of fine Swiss-made goods, from watches to precision machinery, has gone from eye-popping to eye-watering, and Swiss companies are warning of peril.

“This is bad for the Swiss economy,” said Thomas Christen, the chief executive of Lucerne-based Reed Electronics, who has started buying cheaper materials to offset his costs.

Everything from a cup of coffee to a Swiss Alpine ski vacation has been priced to the stretching point or beyond reach for many tourists.

Mark Tompkins and Serena Koenig of Boston were stunned during a recent visit. “A mixed drink at an average bar,” Mr. Tompkins said, “was 18 to 20 Swiss francs” — $23 to $25 — “so two rounds of drinks for four people was crazy expensive.”

In downtown Geneva, where a phalanx of regal storefronts glitter with diamonds and gold, Jean Loichot said his business from Americans and Europeans had slowed to a trickle.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8c5a3cb06e29cf1ace7ed2753714aba1