O’Leary’s buses

Published On: September 2, 2017 12:59 AM NPT By: Hemant Arjyal

With 1,800 routes, 2,000 daily flights and 200 destinations, Ryanair flew 12.6 million people this July alone

This one is on Michael O’Leary, the no-nonsense personality among low-cost airline operators. O’Leary often got beaten up at school as teachers/priests found him obnoxiously rude. Surprisingly he bears no grudge against anyone as he feels his hard past helped him become a better person. But for many the tongue-lashing CEO of Ryanair continues unreformed. He thinks flying is not something worth being excited about, unlike losing virginity. Making bizarre statements seems to be in his blood. To him an aircraft is merely a bus with wings. People flock to his low-cost airline notwithstanding their discomfort and mistreatment. With 1,800 routes, 2,000 daily flights and 200 destinations, it flew 12.6 million people this July alone, way ahead of its nearest rival, Easyjet, at just 8.17 million. Ryanair believes that in short flights, passengers need affordable fare, not velvet pillows and other frills.

It typically flies to small airports where charges are low. It bargains for further concessions as increased airport activity in an unfamiliar location spurs the local economy to some degree. For example the small town of Hahn, some two bus hours away, is sold as “Frankfurt”. Cost-sensitivity makes Ryanair use as few airport facilities as possible. It would rather have passengers walk and climb stairs than use boarding bridges. Like any business it generates substantial commissions out of services doled out to other providers like car rentals and hotels. Passengers can fly even more cheaply if he could collect more from such ancillary sales, O’Leary argues.

Getting rid of airport check-in counters was considered one of his whimsical ideas and seen with cynicism. But O’Leary had the last laugh; by going “online” he consigned check-in counters to history, wiping middle agents in one swipe, at the cost of creating many enemies. O’Leary views the elaborate system of collecting and delivering passenger baggage as unnecessary hassle that simply needs to be reinvented. There have been instances when passengers even assisted loading their baggage on aircraft. While other flights were delayed by the loader shortage, Ryanair flight carried on unaffected. If it was within his powers, O’Leary would have his passenger deposit and collect their baggage to/from the aircraft everywhere.

Keeping v running 
Out of his fleet of 400, 350 aircraft are kept operational any day, crisscrossing the network spanning 33 countries. Of the remaining 50, a few are kept in standby and the rest on various stages of mandated or necessary upkeeps. This shows the level of readiness that Ryanair goes in maintaining not just a strict schedule but also fleet safety. It is entirely different thing to “keep” and “run” an airline like a business. State owned carriers are more kept than run. We know how difficult managing a three-plane fleet is especially when one goes kaput!

Given his blunt demeanour media finds endless reason to peck MOL. He remains unperturbed but rewards them with even more of his bizarre ideas. It becomes a win-win for both, one benefitting from free publicity and the other from sensational headlines. Every time his remarks make headline Ryan’s website hits spike up, netting in more sales.

This article would not be complete without highlighting some of O’Leary’s ideas, which may appear unconventional. He feels aircraft should manage with just one toilet, not three, and the space saved could accommodate more seats, making tickets cheaper. Likewise, second pilot in the cockpit is one too many as most controls are handled by Flight Management System (FMS) computers. If he could he would even allow some “standing passengers” as happens in our city buses. Of course, they will be secured with shoulder and waist harness so that they do not topple during turbulence. 
He feels people would queue for such options if the price was low enough. He even wanted to install pay toilet on board. One could save toilet fees if one was careful to pee before boarding. Other ideas being considered, in earnest, are in-flight X-rated pay channels and gambling. 

Heavy on culture 
Carrying unnecessary weight is a big issue for any airline. As such, he has done away with in-flight magazines; read it online, he says. Passengers could even be charged, in the future, for being too fat. He advises cabin staff to be careful with their “waist”, lest they miss an opportunity to pose for Ryanair calendar. MOL is unbeatable when it comes to generating revenues from unthinkable sources, like having to pay little extra to sit together; even honeymoon couples are not spared. He has proved it is possible to make money even by selling cheap. He will try to get them lower still through more creative options. And it should not be surprising at all should MOL decide to double the charges for honeymooners!

That said, any low cost operation venture will not be possible without, a) maintaining a single type fleet, b) making shortest possible turnaround at airports, c) having a workforce ready to do anything, anytime, d) remaining glued to company rules, no matter what and, e) bargaining at every available opportunity. But safety issues are strictly beyond bargaining; even small oversights are tackled with extreme seriousness. 

MOL is not exaggerating when he boasts about lowest fares, a robust new fleet and, above all, flying on time. As for safety, he lets record speak for itself: there has been no fatality, let alone major accident, in 32 years of flying. Those who are careful with the fine prints and working culture there should have no problem boarding O’Leary’s bus.


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