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The best (and worst) of Michael O'Leary's surprise announcements

The CEO says that expanding Ryanair will mean scrapping low fares. Here’s some of our favourite O’Learyisms.

Image: ARROW PRESS/EMPICS Entertainment

COLOURFUL RYANAIR CEO Michael O’Leary has said low-fares airline Ryanair will have to abandon its traditional business model of… well, low fares… if it wants to expand its business any further.

The Mullingar native said that to expand the airline’s passenger base it would have to move out of rural airports and book landing slots in facilities closer to their local cities – a move that would mean the end of the airline’s rock-bottom fares.

O’Leary explained that brands like Tesco and Lidl had managed to shake off their reputation as being “cheap and naff” and that it was time that Ryanair would have to pursue a similar transformation, plugging its… eh… “terrific” in-flight service.

He further said that the airline would probably have to set about finding a new Chief Executive, admitting that his direct and confrontational management style would not best serve the business in future.

The twin-pronged announcement is pretty stunning – so here’s some more of our favourite Ryanair moments.

The time they gave a passenger free flights – and then decided not to

Jane O’Keeffe (then 21) thought her luck was in in 1988 when she became the airline’s millionth passenger, with a prize of free flights for life bestowed on her at a lavish champagne reception in Dublin Airport. Indeed, she made use of her prize four or five times a year.

Until 1997, that is, when the company’s marketing director insisted that because there was never anything agreed in writing, he was limiting the prize to one flight per year – having done so on behalf, he said, of Michael O’Leary.

So desperate was Ryanair to get out of the arrangement that it even argued the prize was unlawful under the Gaming Act. In the end, it lost – and Jane O’Keeffe was awarded €67,500 in damages by Justice Peter Kelly.

The time they decided they didn’t want Justice Peter Kelly taking their cases any more

Maybe it was the Jane O’Keeffe case that sealed it. In July of this year Ryanair asked Kelly, the head of the Commercial Court, to excuse himself from further cases involving the airline.

Kelly was assigned to a case where Ryanair attempted to sue a bus company based in London for €7m over an alleged breach of a marketing contract, but had said the previous month that Ryanair and the truth were “uncomfortable bedfellows”.

As a result, the airline asked for another judge to hear their case. Kelly postponed the case until November to allow the airline submit a more comprehensive argument.

The time he registered his car as a taxi so that he could use bus lanes

Ireland’s taxi business was deregulated by the High Court in 2000, ending a longstanding arrangement where to become a taxi driver, one had to purchase a taxi plate from another driver.

In 2004, to abuse this judgement – and to make use of Dublin’s emerging network of bus lanes, which taxis are permitted to use – O’Leary purchased a taxi plate for his Mercedes, and even (reportedly) drove the car himself to get around town quicker.

It has never been publicly acknowledged whether O’Leary decided to discontinue this practice, though the transport minister of the time, Seamus Brennan, criticised the practice.

The time he said a Ryanair transatlantic service would offer “beds and blowjobs”

We can’t be sure yet whether this one was a joke – but in 2008 when O’Leary announced an intention for the airline to move into long-haul flights by using cheap airports within commuting distance of larger American cities, he said that the service would probably have a business class as well as an economy one.

The economy prices would be somewhat subsidised by the higher fare for a business class ticket, so while the economy passengers would be charged for in-flight food and the like, the same products would be free for business flyers.

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Products, he suggested, like blowjobs. Which, he repeated, would be free for business users.

Fantastically, O’Leary then feigned outrage when his German translator (the conference was taking place in Düsseldorf) could not offer a translation for ‘blowjob’.

The time he (allegedly) posed as a journalist to find out what Aer Rianta had told a newspaper

In 2001 a Ryanair flight to Glasgow had to turn around after 20 minutes due to what the airline called a “hydraulic problem”. One passenger noticed, however, that while the plane sat on the tarmac, “pools” of oil were spilling from the aircraft.

One passenger later tried to sue the airline over what she thought was “threatening intimidation” by the airline’s staff in letting them know what was going on.

So, as part of Ryanair’s attempts to find out what Aer Rianta had told the newspapers about the situation, O’Leary called the regulator pretending to be an Evening Herald reporter who wanted to check the facts the press had been given.

Unsurprisingly, O’Leary refused to confirm the claims.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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