O’Leary admits he was last to get on board with charm offensive

Outspoken Ryanair boss says management ‘over did it’ when it came to check-in luggage

Michael O’Leary: I was the one who was slow to move. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Michael O’Leary: I was the one who was slow to move. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

 

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary admits he was last to get on board with the company’s new policy of being nice to customers and had no idea “just how stressful” it was to fly with the airline.

The carrier adopted a more customer-friendly approach in late 2013 amid a tsunami of complaints about its punitive charges and inflexible baggage policies.

Mr O’Leary said the charm offensive had been driven by staff, not by management, who had become obsessed with driving down costs.

Slow to move

“I was the one who was slow to move. We were the ones telling staff - you will measure everybody’s bag down to the last millimetre,” he told the annual Carmichael lecture in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.

He said the airline’s strict baggage policy was not designed to make money but to reduce the number of passengers checking in bags, which he noted had fallen from 80 to 20 per cent.

This, he said, had transformed the company’s cost base, as it no longer needed to rent the same number of check-in desks or deploy staff to man them.

“But we over did it. We had people inventing new rules at boarding gates… and we were putting our staff at points of conflict with customers,” he said.

“I didn’t quite get just how stressful it could be to board a Ryanair aircraft,” Mr O’Leary said.

The outspoken airline chief said Ryanair’s success was down to its swift turnaround times - 25 minutes compared to Aer Lingus’s one hour. This allowed the company’s aircraft make, on average, two more flights a day than most of its rivals.

Long-haul market

However, the model wasn’t transferrable to the long-haul market, he said, as the flight times were too long hence the company had no plans to begin flying to the US.

In his address, Mr O’Leary predicted a radical shift in the airline industry within the next five years.

“The three big legacy carriers in Europe – BA, Lufthansa and Air France are partnered up with three big US majors - and are fighting the three big Gulf carriers, trying to keep them out.”

However, he said these airlines were likely to consolidate into three global superpowers, each comprising a Gulf , a European and a US carrier.

“They will have enormous countrol and almost limitless pockets to fund better aircraft, better services and lower prices in the economy cabin on long haul.”

This would not damage Ryanair’s dominance of the short-haul market in Europe, he said, noting the company had orderd an additional 400 aircraft and planned to grow annual passenger numbers from 105 million to 180 million in the next five to six years.

Mr O’Leary said his ultimate ambition was to drive the cost of tickets down to zero, with the company funding itself through discretionary sales of snacks, wifi or even in-flight gambling.

Asked if the Health Service Executive needed a “Michael O’Leary” to sort its problems, he said: “Yeah, it does”.

“Nothing will succeed in this country if it is run by politicians,” he said, noting the health service was beset by an ineffective management that were bypassed by unions who were effectively running the show.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.