Home > Uncategorized > Come fly with me

Come fly with me

A couple of years ago, after boarding a Ryanair flight at Prestwick, I discovered that I’d left something in the lounge. The flight crew were very helpful and recovered it for me before take-off. I was so pleased that in a rash moment I promised the flight director that never again would I say anything rude about Michael O’Leary, its flamboyant chief executive. Sadly, I have found it very difficult to maintain that pledge.

First there was Ryanair’s outrageous behaviour in Spain, where they went head to head with the AENA, the state-owned airport management company, and with the Catalan government, looking to obtain ever higher public subsidies in return for maintaining routes out of Girona. While they were doing this, they were quietly moving services to Barcelona’s Terminal 2 which had become seriously under-used after the opening of  the new Terminal 1. You can bet they received preferential terms; any time you board a Ryanair flight through a jetty, you can be sure that someone else is paying for it. The whole affair dragged on for months; Ryanair never did withdraw from Girona, but it is no longer possible to fly from there to Scotland.

Now they’re at it again, in Scotland, using confrontational tactics in an attempt to bludgeon reduced landing charges out of BAA, the  owners of Edinburgh Airport, and countering its rejection with the threat to cut five routes and with them, 300 jobs. That was uttered by Mr O’Leary in person, on a no doubt flying visit to the capital. The problem he has on this occasion is that there was nothing to be lost in translation. No sooner had he made his threat than it was pointed out that four of the five routes in question did not yet exist, nor did a single one of those 300 jobs, since Ryanair has no direct employees at Edinburgh Airport, and accounts for no more than 20% of its turnover.

Those who watched the Scottish TV news a couple of nights ago, probably saw Mr O’Leary clowning for the cameras with one of his model planes, then heard him refer to the airport owners as ‘prats’ for refusing to back down in the face of his demands and concede a deal which would have started a stampede from the other 39 airlines who fly through Edinburgh. Those who didn’t switch off in anger would have heard Ryanair’s announcement that people who had booked on the aborted routes would receive a refund, but also . . . the really nasty part . . . that when it came to the cost of ancillary bookings, such as hotels and car hire, they were on their own.

Ryanair boasted recently in a press release that as a company it has €3 billion euro in cash reserves. If that is true, indeed even if it has added an extra ‘0’ to the real figure, (previous press releases have included a suggestion that standing passengers were to be allowed on Ryanair flights, so it isn’t beyond a spoof) then much, maybe even all, of that money has been squeezed from taxpayers in subsidies, and from the shareholders of airport operators weak enough to have given in to its threats.

Two weeks ago, in Barcelona Terminal 1, I witnessed a noisy but orderly protest by supporters of Spanair, the recently collapsed Catalan-owned budget airline. Their message was ‘Save Spanair — Ryanair out’. Instinctively I’m on their side.

However I have a nagging problem, and it is this. Ryanair actually does what it says on the tin. It’s cheap and it gets you there on time, in modern aircraft. Its performance and its illogical unpopularity are both down to one man, Michael Kevin O’Leary. A glance at his business record leaves no room for doubt that he is a fantastically gifted man. A glance at his public statements makes it just as clear that he can be his own, and his company’s worst enemy. Ryanair should be what it claims to be, ‘The world’s favourite airline’, not the most hated, as it probably is.

Have I broken my promise to that flight director? No, I don’t believe so. I’ve said nothing rude about Mr O’Leary; I have told the plain truth.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. David Birkmyre
    February 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    ‘Morning – I quite agree with your comments re O’Leary – he’s a wee bit ‘sleekit’ eh?

    Talented however………………

    My wife and I are currently ‘working our way through’ Bob Skinner (I could only get Skinner’s Ghosts 2nd hand ’cause it’s out of print)

    We enjoy your tales, although Skinner himself seems to be a bit of a bully (there’s more than a bit of you in there)

    Your books are just so much better than those written by Stuart McBride (bit childish) – but – there’s one thing he does rather well

    For charity, Stuart auctions ‘characters’ for his next book – he realises lots of dosh for his chosen good causes – and folk just love to see their names ‘in print’ (either as a victim or as a criminal)

    Ever thought about this?

    That’s all

    Keep up all your good work – you have a great ability to entertain.

    David Birkmyre (Aberdeen)

    • February 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks David, appreciated. Out of print? No it isn’t; it might be out of stock but all my titles are still well in print. When in need (and even when not) try Campbell Read Books. That’s my son’s on-line store and he has them all. Me? Bully? I don’t recognise that description. As for the rest of Skinner, there is nobody in him; he’s his own man. As for Stuart MacB, good for him, but he didn’t invent character auctioning, not by a long chalk. I’ve been doing that for years, but sparingly, for two reasons; 1) it can take at least 18 months to deliver and 2) you have no control over the name you wind up with, or any means of verifying that it is genuine. Mind you, I’ve been lucky. If you ever get round to Oz Blackstone and read a book called Poisoned Cherries, you’ll find a character called Ewan Capperauld. You couldn’t make that up. Ewan has a gift shop in North Berwick, and I was so pleased when he won the auction that I gave him double value by including his wife.

      • David Birkmyre
        February 28, 2012 at 9:02 am

        Thanks for your prompt response – yes, I should have said ‘out of stock’.

        I also note what you say re character auctioning – I hadn’t appreciated the logistical problems (you want to see what names Eddie Stobart sometimes ends up with on the front of his trucks!)

        Have a nice day

        David Birkmyre

  2. March 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    As you say, Ryanair pulled 5 routes, 4 of which do not exist. Mr O’Leary likes to grandstand, and my own view is that this has more to do with the sale of Edinburgh Airport than the current fee negotiations. Their contract runs until October. The event was timed to coincide with the first round of bids for the airport. Mr O’Leary was reminding the potentional new owners that he is likely to be knocking on thier door as soon as they take office. As you say, the man’s no fool, even if this is the impression he often gives in his press conferences.

    • March 2, 2012 at 10:22 am

      I’m sure you’re right about the motive,Lynn. Goes to show that O’Leary doesn’t do subtle.

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