March 15, 2012

BEST OF: A Crack at Ryanair’s CEO

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Several weeks before my first Ryanair flight, Ryanair’s CEO Michael Kevin O’Leary lectured an upper-level Trinity College Dublin economics course. No, I’m not a student of economics — not even close. But the CEO’s infamous reputation — as well as the promise that three free flight vouchers would be awarded during the lecture — were enough to draw me in.

Dressed in a gingham button-up shirt, blue jeans and loafers, O’Leary seemed like an innocuous (albeit, casual) middle-aged Irish businessman and Trinity graduate. Given his outfit, he probably travels with the same carry-on baggage restrictions that his airline requires.

Five minutes into the business model presentation and a slew of Irish slang and f-bombs later, it was clear that O’Leary conducts himself by nobody’s rules but his own. He emphasized that his airline had adopted Southwest Airlines’ low-cost strategy and improved it beyond recognition. But more importantly, his airline was superior to all competitors.

Ryanair spends almost no money on marketing. For this reason, O’Leary has become a highly controversial rhetorician. In June 2009, O’Leary told the press that he planned to charge customers for on-flight toilets. Additionally, he’d remove two of each flight’s three toilets to fit six more passengers.

He famously commented, “We are flying aircraft on an average flight time of one hour around Europe; what the hell do we need three toilets for?”

Reflecting upon the subsequent media outrage, O’Leary told his Trinity audience, “You should have heard the uproar when I make a joke about charging to use the jacks.”

When O’Leary proposed taxing customers for on-flight Wi-Fi, old ladies feared deviants might use it to look at pornography. “But what about the children?” they demanded. O’Leary asked the lecture hall, “But what about the children? Well, they can look at porn too.”

Given Ryainair’s excellence in short-haul travel, one student asked whether it would expand to transcontinental flights. O’Leary responded that a long-haul flight provided six hours to pedal even more products including “a beverage, a meal, a blanket, a pillow and even a blowjob if customers will pay for one.”

Three flight vouchers were awarded throughout to the best question, stupidest question and prettiest girl to ask a question. Following a brief stint in the ILR School, I attempted to win one by addressing something he’d neglected the past forty-five minutes – human resources management. What was his philosophy? “Warm, cuddly, and sensual. Next question.” Needless to say, I didn’t win.

When later visiting London, I boarded an EasyBus bearing the slogan, “Even Ryanair passengers welcome.” I questioned why I put up with Ryanair in the first place. Does it have any rhyme or reason other than capitalizing customers’ mistakes? Despite the casual arrogance and vulgarity that made for an entertaining lecture, O’Leary provided some answers.

An airline makes the most money when it is efficient, plain and simple. If you charge people to check bags, they won’t check bags. And you don’t have to pay money or spend time loading and unloading the luggage at the gate. If you make people choose their own seat, they will queue and be seated quickly. The flight can take off promptly and get to its destination on time.

If you ensure that each bag is a specific size, no time is wasted trying to fit oversized baggage into overhead compartments. If you require people to check-in online and print their boarding passes, no time, resources, paper, kiosks or manpower are needed for the task. If you want free breakfast champagne and an accommodating employee to hold your hand, go elsewhere.

The best way to make people act efficiently? Give them monetary consequences. Avoid the rookie mistakes, and you’ll enjoy the most abundant, cheapest on-time flights in this hemisphere.

Devon Quinn is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at dquinn@cornellsun.com. Notes from Abroad: BEST OF appears on Fridays.

Original Author: Devon Quinn