We must not shed a tear for Ryanair

By Frank Barrett, Mail on Sunday

Last updated at 10:05 10 February 2004


Despite the recent EU ruling, we shouldn't feel too sorry for Ryanair

When Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary rang the EU last week to complain about its ruling which banned 'unlawful' subsidies by airports, it would have been a nice touch if the EU had fobbed off O'Leary's call with an irritating Ryanair-style recorded message. ('We are sorry, all our lines are busy at this time, please refer to our web site ...')

Presumably when Michael O'Leary rings to complain about something, he likes to get someone on the other end of the line to deal with his problem. Yes, Mr O'Leary, funnily enough we air travellers would like to get this too.

I wonder if the EU only takes complaints by fax because this is the only way that Ryanair deals with them.

But for an airline that doesn't like to hear our complaints, Ryanair has a surprisingly large number of complaints of its own. Mr O'Leary seems almost permanently to find himself embarking on wild Basil Fawlty-esque rants - furiously raging at the latest slight he and his airline have been forced to endure.

Who doesn't he like? It would probably be easier to say who he does like. These are a few of his least favourite things: British Airways, Air France, BAA (which runs the main UK airports), the Irish Government, the British Government, the French Government, the EU, easyJet, people in wheelchairs, people who complain... to name but a few. And I would have to say he doesn't seem especially keen on me.

The interesting thing about his high state of perma-dudgeon is that I think it's rather manufactured. I guess Mr O'Leary worked out fairly early on in his tenure at Ryanair that there is nothing the Press likes better than a row.

The angry small guy fighting back against the large bully is a story that works well for the news reports.

Poor old Michael O'Leary, all he wants to do is offer us all cheap fares and nasty people like the EU keep trying to stop him.

The problem is that this story is starting to grow a beard.

It would also be naive of us not to realise that Mr O'Leary's number one concern is making a profit. And you would have to say he doesn't really appear to shed many tears on our behalf. It was only a few days ago, after all, that Ryanair had its knuckles rapped for making wheelchair users pay extra to board its flights.

And remember O'Leary's dismissive attitude when he was asked what second-home owners would do when he closed down underperforming flights to remote parts of France. 'Please don't ask me to be sorry for rich people,' he said.

Well perhaps we shouldn't be too sorry for rich Mr O'Leary.

The subsidies he got from airports meant that he made bigger profits. No doubt they also meant cheaper fares for us, but that was essentially a side issue.

Is he going to start cancelling services to lots of airports as a result of the EU ruling? I don't think so. Ryanair's business is passenger air transport - he has to transport passengers somewhere. He'll make up the shortfall, of course, by putting up fares.

The lack of subsidy might mean that fares will go up by about £4. It's not what you might call a deal breaker.

Mr O'Leary has a fondness for dressing up in religious costumes (he takes a particular delight in getting rigged up as a bishop). Perhaps for the next few months he might try the taciturn garb of a Trappist monk.

Do you have a question to ask Frank Barrett? Click here to ask him online, or write to him at The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.

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