Ryanair Officially Tries to Be Nicer

In this day and age of social media, it’s getting harder and harder for airlines to get away with bad behavior. Lose someone’s luggage? You’ll hear about it within minutes of them landing. Serve a bad meal? Expect that to go viral on Instagram. If your customer service isn’t spot-on, you’ll be sure to hear about it.

But one airline has consistently refused to bow to customer requests. Ryanair is known for the kind of service that elicits complaints. In fact there are entire websites dedicated to documenting how much people are frustrated with what happens aboard Ryanair planes. But despite complaints, Ryanair has managed to find its way to the top of Europe’s airlines. Those baggage fees may seem ridiculous, but the airline is profitable for a reason.

Now with the European economy going downhill however, CEO Michael O’Leary knows that the airline can’t risk to lose passengers, and he is working on making the airline, well, nicer.The man known for proposals like onboard pay toilets (you’re only flying for two hours, you should be able to hold it) is now suggesting that his airline has to transform its brand; just offering crazy low fares isn’t enough.

On the heels of last month’s news that the airline forced a man to pay nearly $260 when he had to change his flight from Dublin to Birmingham because his entire family had died in a fire, Ryanair is now turning on the charm. According to The New York Times, that includes reducing oversized baggage and boarding card reissue fees as well as allowing a small carry-on no larger than 35 x 20 x 20 centimeters to be carried aboard flights from Dec. 1 onwards. Oh, and there will be “quiet” flights, meaning that people flying before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. will avoid the loud in-flight announcements.

It’s all in the hopes that people keep choosing Ryanair wherever they fly in Europe.
“As some of these policy changes will require website changes and handling staff retraining, we will be rolling them out over the next few months as we strive to further improve Europe’s number one customer service airline,” customer service director Caroline Green said.

Will it work? Only the travel social media sphere will be able to tell us.

Five reasons I’m insanely jealous of Michael O’Leary

I am jealous of Michael O’Leary. Very. The CEO of super-low-rent European discounter Ryanair, O’Leary has developed a reputation. He’s loud. He says what’s on his mind. He really doesn’t care what you think about him. He’s probably broken every rule of public relations and investor relations. I’ve been with Gadling since December 2008, and O’Leary has been a great source of posts every step of the way.

So, he’s the CEO and he can say what he wants. This isn’t really how it works: most CEOs have plenty of people telling them what to say and when to shut up. This is why O’Leary has it made.

And now it’s time for my confession: five reasons I’m jealous of Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair:

1. He’s the CEO: hey, that means something to me. I wouldn’t mind being the top dog. O’Leary brings in a good living every year, and he gets to call the shots. The latter likely results from the fact that he does the former well.

2. He really does speak his mind: whether it’s demanding that the government tax someone else or coming to the defense of a stewardess moonlighting as a porn star, O’Leary has a position on everything. And, he’s more than happy to share it publicly. Of course, bloggers have fallen into his crosshairs a few times.

3. He’s a product development genius: how many CEOs have actually suggested bundling blowjobs with their products? Or, at the other end of the spectrum, how many have suggested that their customers pay for restroom access? If I could come up with stuff like that, my days at Gadling would be nothing more than a memory.

4. He’s old school: executives tend to reprimand or even fire employees. But banishment? That’s hard core. That’s where O’Leary truly shines. Of course, it starts with an O’Leary stunt, in which he suggests that copilots could be replaced with stewardesses. Well, a pilot offended by this notion suggested that O’Leary could be replaced with a ‘probationary cabin crew member currently earning €13,200 a year.'” Don’t tangle with the master: O’Leary shipped this pilot off to Lithuania! It’s not exactly Siberia, but it sure as hell isn’t the Portugal/Spain/Italy the pilot wanted. And, “Kaunas is considered Siberia for Ryanair pilots.”

5. He’s just that good: remember all those whining airline execs were complaining about their businesses during the global financial crisis? Well, O’Leary wasn’t one of them. He actually kept Ryanair profitable during that hellish period. And now, he doesn’t mind taking potshots at his competitors during his quarterly earnings calls!

Ryanair CEO wants someone else to pay taxes

Michael O’Leary – loved, presumably, by his mother and probably not many else – truly wants passengers to pay less to fly. Of course, that’s the point of a low-cost carrier like Ryanair, right? Well, O’Leary, the airline’s CEO, loves his passengers so much that he doesn’t want them to pay taxes. At least, not the UK’s Air Passenger Duty.

Someone has to get slammed, though. If one tax goes away, there needs to be another to take its place.

Always thinking ahead, O’Leary has suggested that the burden be shifted to the hospitality industry, which could replace most of the revenue from the Air Passenger Duty with a modest levy of £1 per night on hotel rooms.

In fairness, O’Leary notes that the APD is the highest flight tax in the world, and it’s keeping people off planes. Since 2007, he told the Daily Telegraph, “Visitor numbers to Britain have fallen from 33 million to 29.5 million.” Now, the fact that the global financial crisis and subsequent recession happened during this period may (or may not) have something to do with the drop in visits to Britain, but doubtless, there’s a role in it for the tax, too.

I guess this is a case of passing the buck in the most literal of senses.

Don’t cry for Michael O’Leary … he has a rockin’ cheering section:


Ryanair’s Micheal O’Leary delivers earnings report as only he can pull off

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary is probably the most insane airline CEO in the world – but at the same time, he’s probably one of the most brilliant. Even when global airlines went into a panic during the recent economic meltdown, his airline stayed profitable, and his numbers usually outshine those of many legacy carriers.

So, when Mr. O’Leary held a conference call with members of the press to discuss his Q3 earnings report, it was filled with everything we’ve come to expect from him.

Inside Investor Relations picked some of the juiciest quotes,including him making fun of journalists, calling claims by British Airways “bullsh*t” and mocking Air France. Their take on the call can be found here.

Mockery aside, the airline did have some bad news to report – it posted a $14 million loss in Q3 of 2010, mostly due to the major travel disruptions after record snowfall in Europe. Add the fallout from Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and 2010 was a pretty lousy year for Ryanair.

Stuff like this only makes me love Mr. O’Leary even more.

Don’t piss off Ryanair: Disgruntled pilot transferred to Lithuania

Thanks to OnlineTravelReview for this gem: A Ryanair pilot has quit after being transferred to Lithuania, allegedly in response to his remarks against CEO Michael O’Leary in the Financial Times newspaper.

Captain Morgan Fischer, a five year RyanAir pilot with more than 20 years of experience, is the first senior staff member to comment publicly against his employer. He wrote a letter in response to CEO O’Leary’s suggestion that a 737 aircraft only needs on pilot and a “trained flight attendant” to jump in in the case of emergency. Fischer, who is no longer with the company, is quoted in FT as saying:

“I would propose that Ryanair replace the CEO with a probationary cabin crew member currently earning approximately €13,200 net per annum,” Capt Fischer has written in a letter to the Financial Times, which reported Mr O’Leary’s comments last week.

“Ryanair would benefit by saving millions of euros in salary, benefits and stock options,” the captain said, and there would be no need for approval from the authorities.

Fischer, an American, was recently transfarred from his base in Marseilles, France to Kaunas, Lithuania after his based closed. Cooincidence? We’re not sure. But Fischer believes it’s more than just bad luck – other pilots were offered spots in Spain, France and Italy, he says. Fischer has since quit.

That will teach you not to argue publicly with your employer. Or not.

[Image via Flickr user Mielko]