Liking Ryanair – Loving Choice

There is no doubt I’ve made mistakes…There’s no doubt I need to learn from those mistakes

Michael O’Leary – RTE Prime Time Monday 30th September 2013

Prime Time, RTE’s current affairs programme is known more for informing and educating its viewers rather than entertaining them. But get Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary into the studio and you have a full-on viewing experience…always. David McCullagh’s interview with the CEO last Monday night was no exception. So if McCullagh’s use of the word “piss” in its variety of forms didn’t have you falling off your seat with shock then O’Leary’s words above would have you on the floor for sure. Ever since several shareholders complained about the impact of customer service on sales at the Ryanair AGM last month O’Leary has been seeking redemption and ultimately more customers as profits and the share price are down.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve flown with Ryanair and my experience has been positive with rare exceptions, the negative experiences usually due to drama from other passengers rather than the shortcomings of the airline. In general, I really hate the rugby scrums that are Ryanair boarding queues especially on flights to and from Ireland. As a nation, we are utterly incapable of queuing without testing the vertebrae and heels of the passenger in front of us. As for specific incidents, on a flight from Alicante to Kerry, a child ran amok to the point that I felt the safety of the plane was at risk. No supervision was evident from the sleeping parents who reeked of stale alcohol. On another occasion, a Cork-bound London Stansted flight was diverted to Kerry due to fog. A bus to transport passengers back to Cork was waiting at Kerry upon arrival. Even though I didn’t avail of the bus service I was still impressed with the efficiency of organisation. A hysterical woman clearly wasn’t and swung her handbag to the ground declaring that this was “typical of Ryanair”. I was eager to explain that the decision to locate Cork Airport on a fog-prone hill near the city rather than on the flat plains of Midleton was the reason she touched down on Kingdom soil as opposed to risking a crash landing, but I wasn’t keen to experience the same fate as the handbag.

One also has to look at the upsides. The fall of communism has been one of the more positive events to happen in Europe in my lifetime. Not long after Mikhail Gorbachev allowed people to travel beyond and behind the Iron Curtain, Ryanair and other budget airlines physically facilitated many of these journeys, particularly between post-communist countries and regions on the periphery of Western Europe. The benefits of increased mobility have included increased cultural awareness and trade. Europe is a better place than it was in 1989 and the budget airlines have played their part in this.

Secondly, people on lower incomes have been able to experience other cultures in ways which were once the realm of the rich. Maybe this is why Ryanair gets much criticism – they’ve broken down class barriers. I’ve experienced snobbery on some airlines where my jeans-clad comfort appearance receives the once-over look of condescension from cabin crew whilst the smiles and newspapers are reserved for suit-clad label-wearing passengers. Never have I felt belittled on a Ryanair flight for being a commoner.

Ryanair comes in for criticism from several angles but one has to admit that Ryanair is now one of the most well-known Irish brands and has to be playing a part in Irish tourism when you examine the figures. In 2012, 6.517 million overseas tourists visited Ireland. In 1985, when Ryanair was founded, only 1.912 million overseas tourists came to our shores. The Central Statistics Office data paints a very clear picture when comparing 2009 figures for visits to and from Ireland with those from 1985 (http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=TMA04&PLanguage=0).

Cross-channel air travel between Ireland and the UK increased from 551,000 in 1985 to 3.114 million in 2009 whereas cross-channel sea travel decreased from 896,000 to 784,000 in the same period. Continental travel increased from 252,000 in 1985 to 2.429 million in 2009. I haven’t found data confirming the percentage that air travel contributes to the latter figures but considering that Ireland is divided from continental Europe by a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean and as I don’t see too many people with wings attached then there is a high possibility that the majority of these visitors travelled here on flights.

Finally, in a report entitled “The Implications of the Irish Air Travel Tax” Ryanair accounted for 43% of departing seats from Irish airports in 2008 with Aer Lingus accounting for 36%. (http://www.ryanair.com/doc/news/2009/irish_air_travel_tax.pdf). Had Ryanair owned Aer Lingus at the time, a massive majority of 79% of departing seats would be under the control of Ryanair. When Ryanair came on the scene it gave other airlines formidable competition and gave the travelling public choice. We don’t want to return to the bad old days of airline monopolies and forking out several weeks wages to fly an hour to the UK. I admit I like Ryanair for its punctuality and prices, but I love choice.

I have no connection with the airline other than that of a paying passenger. Yes, I’ve been annoyed with some aspects of its service but then I reflect on the happy memories of places I visited where Ryanair was the airline of transport. And besides, anyone who has experienced the Irish health system will deem Ryanair the paragon of service in comparison!

© Hazel Joy 2013

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