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Ryanair: Still proudly cheap, but no longer nasty

Stuart Patrick

Once in a while a guest speaker appears on the Chamber's forward schedule that you know will attract a wee bit more than the average attention.  

Just such a man is Michael O'Leary.  Indeed you can buy a book solely devoted to his notable comments  -  Plane Speaking ; the Wit and Wisdom of Michael O'Leary!

Together with our friends at Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce we welcomed the CEO of Ryanair to Glasgow for an open chat with our members, and plain speaking is exactly what we got.

Michael O'Leary is on a mission to correct some misunderstandings about both himself and his airline. He is well aware of the perception that Ryanair is, in his own words, 'cheap and nasty'. 

There is nothing wrong, of course, with being cheap and Michael could not have been more emphatic that Ryanair is the lowest cost airline on the European market, quoting an average flight price of €46 compared to his next nearest competitor of €83.   That the attention to low cost is undiminished he makes very clear.

What is more concerning is the 'nasty' image.  He will admit that perhaps some of that comes from his own technique for generating free PR through fairly outrageous statements about his competitors, many of the airports he uses, every government he has to deal with and even, now and again, his customers.  

If he had known, he says, that being nice to customers was such a profitable tactic he would have adopted it years ago.  Being nasty about his customers - and there are a long list of well-known MOL quotes that are exactly that - is now being ditched. 

The argument that customers simply want low fares, reliable arrival times and impeccable safety is not enough.  Too often he admits Ryanair, in its drive to keep costs down, created points of conflict with passengers during the journey experience; too blunt in refusing refunds or too aggressive in managing baggage to take two examples he sets out himself.

He highlights some of the changes we can expect when Ryanair launches its schedule at Glasgow Airport.  There will be a service tailored to business people - with flexible tickets, free airport check-in, fast track security and priority boarding procedures. The website will be easier to manage with fewer clicks in a booking transaction (something our friends at Indez are very strong on), a much easier search for the cheapest offer prices that often lead the company's marketing and seat allocation. 

Ryanair is buying some 200 new planes - which of course tells you that, despite its image problems, this is a hugely successful business.  Those planes will be designed to improve the flying experience, with more leg room in particular.

There will be some things that won't change.  Ryanair remains a low cost airline. It is, he states, the lowest cost airline in Europe by far, and he aims to keep it that way. Those 200 new planes will cost 18% less to fuel. So cost will remain the most important driver of company strategy.   Nor are his competitors, airport partners and governments across the world likely to find the strength and colour of his criticisms diminished.  We got the full MOL treatment over breakfast with the wide range of the MOL vocabulary that we have come to expect.

And there were two messages I couldn't find fault with at all.  Michael is vigorous and convincing in arguing against Air Passenger Duty, as he did in the Herald.  APD remains a tax that hits Scotland and the North of England disproportionately and it's especially damaging to Ryanair's low cost model when the tax effectively doubles his average fare price.  We agree wholeheartedly with him that the tax has to go.

Equally we couldn't fault his comments on Glasgow itself. He believes the Commonwealth Games have made an enormous impact on Glasgow's image. Repeating a quote to the Scotsman,  'Glasgow had a s**t image - unemployment, rioting football supporters  or closing dockyards.  All of a sudden you see a new Glasgow during the Games; new architecture, new facilities and a confidence there that's putting Glasgow on the map'.

Whilst the Chamber and its members knew that Glasgow has changed, it has been a strenuous repetitive battle to get that across to investors and visitors alike. Clearly with the help of the Games we have succeeded with Michael O'Leary who happily sees Glasgow as one of the 'fastest growing city break destinations in Europe'.

We welcome Michael and Ryanair to Glasgow Airport.  He can help us bring that extra three to four hundred thousand visitors to Glasgow that we want, not least through his three daily flights from Stansted. 

He believes he can add an extra two million passengers to Glasgow over the next few years. We really look forward to seeing that happen.

  • You can hear Michael's STV interview on the eve of his Chamber talk 22 minutes into this.