The joke is not on Ryanair

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LUCK OF THE IRISH: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is a media dream. Photo credit Shutterstock

JOKES about Michael O’Leary’s airline help to keep us amused. A favourite is O’Leary’s observation that the price of a Guinness at his local is very competitive.

“So it is,” replies the barman: “And will you want a glass with it, sir?”

Often the joke is on the travelling public as the airline boss is a master at generating free headline publicity. Like Sir Richard Branson, O’Leary is rarely off our front pages. Branson gets his through participating in epic stunts and he is usually surrounded by eye-candy.

The two businessmen follow a well-used flight path for the aviation industry has always attracted showmen. Many will remember the bright and breezy Freddie Laker who, by using surplus World War II aircraft, opened up the cheap holiday abroad market. His aircraft were the charabancs of the skies.

One of O’Leary’s stunts was to have vertical seats fitted in his aircraft thus allowing him to cram in more passengers. Boeing, manufacturers of many Ryanair aircraft, ruled out the concept. Spokesman Nick West says; “Among other things, stringent regulatory requirements, including seats capable of withstanding a force of 16Gs, pretty much prevent such an arrangement.

Ryanair’s fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft are each licensed to carry 189 passengers. O’Leary simply isn’t allowed to exceed this figure and he knows it but the publicity the story received was worth far more than the profitability such an arrangement might have brought.

The airline boss hardly allows a hoax to drift from the front pages before he dreams up yet another. His madcap schemes rarely come to fulfilment but it is fun to wonder which of them will bear fruit.

Another impractical con was to impose a €1 charge for using aircraft loos. This was followed by the ‘fat tax’; a scheme to surcharge passengers who the airline considered overweight.

Each headline grabbing scheme is crafted to remind us that his company is a no frills low cost budget airline; it helps to keep the story alive. Journalists adore O’Leary as he photographs well; he is a showman and his quotes are invariably outrageous.

Many recall the Irish airline boss wearing a German shirt after England’s World Cup defeat. The jibe got his pictures in the newspapers and doubtless endeared him to German, Scottish and Irish travellers without necessarily damaging his British credentials. He had his own take on it of course: ‘Now that England’s out of the cup it is time to get away.’

Free publicity works like an Irish charm and Ryanair is still Europe’s most popular carrier. The business world needs more like Michael O’Leary.

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