Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

More visitors for us emigrants?

Buget measures repealing air travel tax and Ryanair’s improved customer service means we may soon have more company abroad, writes David Burns

Michael O'Leary announced new measures to improve customer service on Ryanair flights. Will it boost the number of people travelling to visit Irish friends and relatives abroad?

Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 17:28


David Burns

Brian Spain, owner of the Coolín Irish Bar where I used to work, is rubbing his hands reading the newspaper these days. Given the Government repeal of air travel tax plus its dole cuts for under-26s, and Ryanair’s recent care bear policy, it’s going to rain green. The weather these days is looking good for the official watering hole of the Paris Gaels Gaelic Football Club now that Michael O’Leary has got himself a sunny disposition. Miracles have happened in the last week.

From the concept of “quiet flights” to a 24 hour window in which minor booking errors might be corrected, the airline is clearly re-thinking Ryanair customer relations. It was only last July that Michael O’Leary mocked the very notion of airline Twitter accounts, calling them all “twats” and stating “If you want to be a friend of somebody, go buy a dog”. Just three months later, October 21st, “da boss” of Ryanair launches a Q&A session on Twitter with the hashtag #GrillMOL. Speculations on this volte-face range from shareholder discontent regarding an unexpected profit warning to the threat posed by easyJet, but one thing is certain; it’s a surprising change in company policy.

Ryanair is notorious for its failure to invest in customer relations. For its ill-famed boss to take to Twitter four days after the 16,000 tweets that turned the British Gas Q&A session into a public beating shows some nerve. Especially given the mood signalled by the hashtag #tellMOL which trended the week before, prompting commentators to wonder whether the internet wouldn’t break under the weight of O’Leary hate.

I can’t help but admire the initiative. After years of controversy concerning indifference in the face of customer complaints, Ryanair has decided to jump in the deep end of extreme makeovers. Europe’s largest low cost carrier, with 80 million passengers a year, could not be described as being forced into this decision. No matter the rumours about why O’Leary suddenly grew a conscience, the company’s growth is still quite healthy. Yet the man himself has admittedhe has made mistakes and wishes to change.

In the midst of all this talk about Ryanair revamped, I can’t help but draw comparison with similarly unpopular Irish political parties. Electorate apathy is on such a scale that there are calls for a minimum turn out threshold so that people go out and give a damn about changes to the Irish constitution. As Fianna Gael and Labour move to cut dole payments for under-26s, youth unemployment at 30.8 per cent, and Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin struggling under the weight of history, this idea might even make sense. For it is not so much the Government with which the Irish people are disillusioned so much as the entire lot of politicians.

The innovation shown by Michael O’Leary from 1994 until today is reflected in the rising passenger numbers every year, and the announcements last week of improved customer service is another facet. The Irish State, which has shown little imagination in the handling of the current economic crisis, could learn from his initiative. The long standing, domestically unpopular tradition of youth emigration is being actively encouraged rather than rethought, and attempts to “harness the Diaspora” do not involve mobilising them with a vote.

At least all this means in a few months I’ll have more people to talk to in the pub.

Read David Burns’s previous articles for Generation Emigration about how a vote would enable Ireland to benefit from emigrants’ overseas experiencehow cutting the dole for young people will lead to increased emigration, how leaving Ireland made him realise he wasted his youth playing video games, and learning about Ireland on a cycling trip around the country this summer.