I’ve finally realised what it is about Ryanair and Michael O’Leary personally – they have no moral framework to rein in their greed. At Ryanair’s General Meeting last week O’Leary pledged to transform the airline’s “abrupt culture” which he admitted could be aping his own personal character flaws. The airline unsurprisingly came bottom in the Which? Brand popularity survey. The bottom line is that, if this is the only way to run a profitable airline, Ryanair should get out of the airline business. When people praise Michael O’Leary for the way he runs his airline they are missing the point. He is no genius. He isn’t reducing costs he is passing them on to us, his customers, travel insurance policies (which ultimately cost us all) and his long-suffering staff. The profitability at Ryanair is no different than an elaborate tax scam – it reduces the bill for Ryanair but we all end up paying. His success is in selling snake oil not driving efficiency.
The final straw came for us in France. We had booked a return flight to Perpignan from Birmingham. I understand, but don’t like, the non-booking of individual seats and the charges for those that do want to have more leg-room. I don’t like and don’t accept the deliberate deceit on the website to get people to take unnecessary insurance, phone coverage, luggage, seat reservations etc through changing the wording and opting out of choices. Even worse are the outrageous cancellation and change fees, premium rate telephone lines for “service” boosted by superfluous messages and queue times.
However, the policies when things go wrong are blatantly opportunistic.
The airline has no employees in Perpignan and so the poor ground staff have to do what they can to execute the dreadful practises of Michael O’Leary. On the evening of 7th September we were herded into the tiny departure lounge and expected to somehow form queues against the Priority and non-priority gates. The doors opened so that we could watch the Aer Lingus flight, due to depart after us, board and leave and only then did the doors close and the announcement came. Due to the bad weather the incoming flight has had to divert to Montpellier and we needed to go back into the airport and await instructions. Unless Ryanair communicate by semaphore they must have known there was no plane at least half an hour previously and just for comfort they should have let us go into the terminal. With so few chairs people were sitting on the floor or standing for around an hour.
There was a brief thunder storm (ten minutes maximum) during which the Aer Lingus flight landed and departed, Air France had no problems and the Ryanair flight to Charleroi also arrived so we knew we something odd was happening. We were advised by local staff that there were buses being organised to take us to Montpellier to catch the plane. Actually, as soon as we vacated the departure lounge the Ryanair customers were loaded onto the Charleroi flight.
We were then advised that the pilot was bringing the plane from Montpellier and would be arriving in half an hour so could we all go through security again. We had a seat in the main terminal and so we waited until we thought there would be the minimum time to stand around air side. Two hours later than we were due to takeoff came the announcement. “Ryanair are sorry to inform you that the flight is cancelled. Use the Internet to make alternative arrangements.” She then came back on the tannoy to advise the next flight was on Tuesday! Bearing in mind this was the poor lady who had to sit behind the Ryanair desk afterwards to defend the indefensible she was very brave and the passengers did not take it out on her. There were people in tears and fuming with rage however. The staff in the airport were clearly shocked by what had happened and were apologetic. There was no explanation of compensation and we understood only through the conversations in the queues that there were approximately 30 seats available on Tuesday’s flight.
I received an email in the evening advising that I could rebook on another Ryanair flight free of charge and that the tickets could be refunded in full as an alternative. There was a link to a refund page and a link to the legislation covering cancellations – the bit that spells out we are entitled to 250 euros compensation.
To leave women and children with no support in a foreign country at 6pm on a Saturday night is utterly irresponsible and Michael O’Leary should be ashamed of himself – as a man if not as a Chief Executive. The only time this happened in the past was when a package holiday firm went bust but at least it was covered by a proper compensation package. There are very few flights from Perpignan anyway and to avoid any charges you would either fly possible a week or so later to your original destination (where your car is) or incur the huge extra costs to get home. I estimate the cost of getting my family home was around £1500. I can afford it and I have the knowledge to get myself out of the situation but what about the elderly and the large families? The attitude of the company afterwards has been appalling – just being able to get in touch with them is either a premium rate phone call or a real challenge to find out an email address from the website. They have refused to answer a question about exactly why the flight was cancelled and have refused to pay the EU261 compensation saying the flight was cancelled due to “adverse weather conditions” and they offered an alternative which we declined – until I received the email later that night I was offered nothing by Ryanair – I had been told by their own staff to make arrangements “on the internet”.
So Michael O’Leary, you can sit behind your terms and conditions and well-versed defences about bringing low-cost flying to the masses. You quote laughable statistics about on-time flights which only work if you count the ones which actually land and the ridiculously long flight time assumptions. The truth is that you don’t run a low cost airline…it’s just low. You are running a business like an old-style get-rich-quick bank. You haven’t got a viable business if travel insurers refuse to insure Ryanair flights, your employees refuse to justify your exploitative practises, and your prospective passengers realise that your flights actually cost more. You must be proud of your personal wealth and watertight terms and conditions and how they affect the 200 people in Perpignan left stranded.
I have nothing but contempt for you.