Saturday, 13 September 2008

Ryanair - The World's Worst Airline?

I was having to fly quite regularly a few years ago, not for pleasure. This was just after the al-Qaeda shoe bomber, Richard Reid, had tried to destroy a Boeing 767 with plastic explosives and a detonator. I never saw any passenger make a fuss about the increased security which followed; we were all quite reassured to be shuffling barefoot through those snaking scanner queues.

There have been other terrorism alerts and foiled plots since. In 2006 an alleged bomb plot to blow up passenger jets bound from Britain to the United States using explosives smuggled aboard in hand luggage was uncovered, and security at airports was again increased. On this occasion Ryanair's CEO Michael O'Leary's response was to throw a hissy fit condemning the inconvenience of security measures. Ryanair reportedly threatened to sue the Government for compensation if airport security measures were not relaxed. Here was a company that seemed to put profit before the safety of its passengers.

Around this time O'Leary also ruled out joining the EU carbon emissions trading scheme. He is quoted as saying, "I am far too busy doubling Ryanair over the next few years to be joining any carbon emissions trading scheme." Nice.

Last month, in part of a private war with travel booking web sites, Ryanair stated that it would refuse to honour any online bookings unless they had been made through its own website. A spokesman for the airline said that it was trawling through bookings, identifying passengers who would be prevented from boarding. The Air Transport Users Council suggested that the airline does not want the travel trade selling on its fares because it makes money from other things it sells through its own website. The consumer watchdog 'Which' accused Ryanair of treating passengers (who were to be summarily turned away at the checkout with ruined holiday arrangements) as ''pawns'.

According to an exposé by the Sunday Times last month, Ryanair are now curbing the discretionary rights of pilots to request extra fuel, by imposing a cap on fuel safety reserves for its aircraft. An internal Ryanair memo, sent to pilots earlier this year, reportedly reveals that the company have insisted that any request by a captain for extra fuel should be the "exception", and refers to the normal limit being 300kg maximum reserve, providing about five minutes of extra stacking time for a Boeing 737. Although CAA guidance advises that sufficient fuel should be carried to cope with the standard stacking time of 20 minutes over busy UK airports, the company memo states: "Ryanair can statistically prove that 20 minutes' fuel is not required in LTN [Luton] or STN [Stansted]. Therefore it is not Ryanair policy to carry this fuel." Pilots are also refused extra fuel for observing altitude restrictions imposed by air traffic controllers.

Civil Aviation figures reveal that the number of fuel shortage emergencies in British airspace has doubled in five years. Under European rules, every plane must carry a "contingency" load of about 5% of a trip's fuel, and enough to divert to an alternative airport. Captains have a duty to anticipate delays from head winds, storms and re-routeing, and to request extra fuel to cope with this. Evan Cullen, a pilot with 19 years' experience and president of the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association, is cited as saying that commercial pressure on pilots to pare down the fuel they carry was compromising safety.

In response to reports that Ryanair pilots are condemning this move to restrict fuel safety margins as 'insane', an airline spokesman apparently retaliated that, "No pilot is allowed to fly with minimum fuel as these clowns claim," whilst admitting that pilots were allowed extra fuel only in "exceptional cases", and acknowledging that Ryanair had suffered a Mayday caused by fuel shortage within the last three years.

In 2007 Ryanair was voted 'the world's worst airline' for the second year running. A third of respondents in Britain voted the airline their least favourite, giving delays, cancellations, unfriendly staff, uncomfortable seats and poor leg room as the reasons (in one incident, Ryanair charged a man with cerebral palsy £18 to use a wheelchair).

Me, I can put up with a bit of rudeness and discomfort (although the company's proposal to allow use of mobile phones in flight is pushing it; aeroplanes are one of the few public spaces left where one is not subjected to the one-sided ramblings of loudmouthed prats, and about the only place you would be unable to escape them by any means). Compromising safety is another matter. I know I won't be flying Ryanair so long as it remains under the control of the ruthless and bombastic Mr O'Lairy.


  1. Hi Brother Tobias, thanks for the comment on my sadly neglected new blog! I've been enjoying reading your entries since.

    Ryanair is indeed a load of rubbish. I flew on six Ryanair flights during the summer, and two Aer Lingus. I can assure you the two brief Aer Lingus flights were far more pleasant than all the time I spent aboard Mr O'Leary's planes. Though you have to applaud Mickey O'Leary for being utterly tasteless in every way—I think particularly of his rather disturbing attempt to dress up as the pope!

  2. I appear to be already boycotting them!

    What a shyster of an operator though - surely their actions must be illegal & while they can introduce a new rule they have no right to try and impose it retrospectivley to penalise those who've already booked via other websites.

    The fuel thing is a safety margin cut too far as well.

  3. Hi Doshea. No need to regret neglecting one' blog - it keeps them in their place!
    I suppose I do admire his chutzpah. Didn't he buy a taxi licence for his Merc so he could use Dublin's bus lanes? But envy is the mother of resentment, or something like that.

    Laura, I agree. Treating your customers like that invites a Ratner-type demise. As for cutting safety margins, I read that they have done away with sick bags as an economy measure!

  4. Airlines, schmarelines...they're all money grubbers.

  5. I'm amazed the media isn't making more of this - it's a real disgrace and a major disaster waiting to happen. Unbelievable.

  6. Welcome back Sagittarian. I hope you had a good trip.

    Steve, I agree. My Pa (and his brother before him) was for a stressful while MD of a small charter airline named Lloyd International Airways, at a time when national policy was far more weighted against small independents. It was a hair-raising thing to run (the aircraft could be stripped out to carry vegetables ot horses in a matter of hours, and then re-fitted for holidaymakers as quickly, and some of the pilots seemed like wild, ex-wartime, seat-of-the-pants types) but they NEVER compromised safety, and their only loss was an empty DC3 which caught fire whilst fuelling.

  7. I'm wrong - it was a Britannia, not a DC3!)

  8. The worst airline I've ever flown on (as a punter) was American Airlines - the legroom was OK (I'm quite tall) but the service was THE most rude, snotty and generally "That's not MY fault" I've ever seen. There were four of us, and my friend Kate is a veggie, and the stewardess came down with a checklist to make sure she'd got the right person for the vegetarian meal... and by the time the trolley got to us she'd given it to somebody else. So they shrugged, didn't apologise, and gave her two inedible puddings and four bags of peanuts. American service culture my foot...

  9. That's unforgivable Lucy. Given the initial cock-up, how difficult is a decent apology (and maybe a mini bottle of wine to boot)?

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