Welcome aboard the fine-print, foul-mouthed, low-cost airline
AM I imagining this or was there a time when Michael O’Leary’s foul-mouthed, hyper-arrogant swagger seemed robustly endearing?
It wasn’t so long ago that, simply by appearing on television without a tie, a successful businessman could give the impression he was some sort of benevolent anarchist. Richard Branson has been getting away with that particular fraud since the late Crustacean period. But the Ryanair boss was always a little too sharp-elbowed to convince as a cuddly hippie.
Even those Victorian rubber barons who – unless Marxist cartoons have led me astray – used to feed the poor into mincing machines stopped short of labelling their customers as idiots and telling them to bugger off.
The latest O’Leary charm offensive concerns a young mother named Suzy McLeod. Arriving for a flight from Alicante to Bristol, the unfortunate woman learnt that, not having printed boarding passes in advance, she would be forced to pay €60 each for herself, her parents and her two children. “I had to pay €300 for them to print out a piece of paper,” she wrote on Facebook. “Please ‘like’ if you think that’s unfair.” More than half a million people duly obliged.
In O’Leary’s defence, you could never accuse him of being evasive when such controversies arise. He doesn’t knock together weaselly excuses concerning the price of inkjet cartridges or the man-hours soaked up by repeated hitting of the “print” key. A man of many words (all punctuated by exclamation marks), he manages dissent with the same delicacy that Josef Stalin brought to his own negotiations with the politically unconvinced.
Utilising withering, schoolteacher sarcasm, he commented: “As you know, there are no internet cafés in Alicante, there are no hotels in Alicante that would provide print-outs and no fax machines so that some friend or colleague at home could print them out and fax them down to you.”
He went on to explain that some “99.98 per cent” of passengers print boarding passes in advance (really?) and that: “To those who don’t, we say quite politely: ‘Bugger off.’” His response to a letter from Ms McLeod was characteristic. “It was your f**k-up,” he commented.
This particular issue offers a chilling, depressing demonstration of the Ryanair philosophy in action. Since it is explained (and it is) on the company’s website that boarding passes should be printed in advance, any inconvenience or expense suffered by the customer who has failed to comply is regarded as entirely reasonable. This is pretty much how the Baader-Meinhof Gang operated: if you don’t do what I say then you are responsible for what I do.