I’m not one of the 315,000 Ryanair passengers to suffer a flight cancellation or one of the 16 million or so Ryanair customers due to fly between now and the end of October uncertain whether my flight might be cancelled at short notice.
So I confess to rather enjoying watching Michael O’Leary, deep in a hole this week, digging furiously.
The timing of Ryanair’s screw up on pilot rostering, so close to the company’s annual general meeting (AGM), was only one of the serial howlers in the past seven days.
How can an operation with 430 aircraft, most in the air eight-plus times a day, get its scheduling so wrong that six weeks from the end of the summer season it risks breaching regulations on pilots’ maximum flying hours?
Oh, for a film crew – or a mole with a mobile – to have captured the moment last Friday when a lawyer, presumably, told O’Leary: “No, we can’t do this. The pilots have to take their leave. We’ll be operating illegally. We’ll be grounded.”
The announcement of the resulting 2,000-plus cancelled flights, late last Friday afternoon, was a classic of its kind – sneaked out, barely noticeable and therefore barely noticed at first.
It was drafted as though a small clarifying follow-up to a previous announcement about improving punctuality at the carrier that is “always getting better”.
“Ryanair to cancel less than 2% of flights over next 6 weeks to improve punctuality” it declared. What good news.
Why the need to improve punctuality? “A combination of air traffic control delays and strikes, [and] weather disruptions and the impact of increased holiday allocations to pilots and cabin crew.”
So the delays were only partly due to Ryanair’s cockpit cock-up and that was only due to the always-getting-better holiday allocations to staff.
To make sure we got it, the release repeated: “These tighter crew numbers and the impact of ATC capacity restrictions in the UK, Germany and Spain as well as French ATC strikes and adverse weather (thunderstorms) have given rise to significant delays in recent weeks.”
So nothing to do with Ryanair operating too tight a schedule with too-few staff then.
That was the hole, and O’Leary jumped in to shovel and shovel, to widen and deepen it throughout this week.
His latest contribution, at Thursdays’ AGM, was to threaten his own pilots when you might think he would be seeking their cooperation.
Ryanair would take back a week of the pilots’ annual leave, O’Leary told Ryanair shareholders, insisting: “We don’t need their agreement.”
Then perhaps realising he was in a hole with a shovel, O’Leary added: “We are not going back to gung-ho management.” He has, after all, read the ‘always getting better’ marketing material.
Unfortunately for Ryanair, he appears to have confirmed what many in the industry suspected – that ‘always getting better’ is window dressing, mere cosmetics, and the reality of Ryanair is what it has always been.
You pay a cheap price for a cheap product and if you don’t like it, you can f . . . off.
O’Leary used to glory in displaying this attitude to passengers who need a wheelchair or fail to check in before reaching the airport.
He balked at so much as using the C word for customers until convinced as part of the ‘always getting better’ programme.
Three years of patient plugging the ‘always’ mantra appeared to have a mellowing effect on O’Leary and Ryanair – until this week.
But at a press conference in London earlier this month, O’Leary suggested that any shareholders unimpressed by his hefty pay, pension and bonus package could “sell their shares and fuck off”.
His message to Ryanair pilots who dare to refuse a €22,000 bonus and pay rise because they would prefer an improved contract this week appeared similar.
Whatever the fall-out in the next few days, I doubt Ryanair will be damaged long-term or that O’Leary will be under pressure to go. He is Ryanair.
Analysts may wring their hands, but the €25 million cost of rebooking and compensating 315,000 passengers won’t dent Ryanair’s profits. The carrier made in excess of €1.3 billion in the 12 months to March.
Even with the €100 million bill that the European Court of Justice ruling on Ryanair contracts last week is forecast to cost the carrier, it won’t shave 10% off the airline’s profits.
But perhaps it will make a proportion of Ryanair passengers pause for thought before making a booking in future.
O’Leary is a witty, and can be a charming, man. But his attitude to those who buy his ‘cheap’ fares and operate his aircraft now lie revealed.
In his view, they – and you, if you fly Ryanair – can all f . . . off.
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