Like a lot of airlines, but even more than most, Dublin-based Ryanair gets a lot of media publicity. Much of the low-cost carriers plight is due to the major-league mouth of CEO Michael O’Leary, who often plays the role of whoopee cushion to Virgin Airlines’ golden boy Richard Branson.
Typical of O’Leary’s off-the-hook and buck-wild diminutive thinking was a widely reported statement a month ago suggesting we don’t need seatbelts on planes. There’s even an “I Hate Ryanair” website with O’Leary as both poster child and chew toy.
Now comes this: Is Ryanair too sexy for itself? Boasting red hot fares and crews, O’Leary has taken a clue from the tabloids and reverted to cheesecake on the company website and in an eyebrow raising swimsuit calendar of skimpily clad women from the ranks of Ryanair’s flight crews.
Last year, a travel magazine sampled 1,000 readers and declared Virgin Atlantic had the hottest flight crews. O’Leary wants a piece of this. But in a likeable twist for O’Leary, proceeds from the sale of the calendar go to the Polish wing of TVN Foundation, which supports children and their medical needs.
The calendar sells onboard Ryanair for $16. The goal is $131,000 for TVN Foundation.
But in yet another blow to Ryanair, the carrier’s Website was recently ranked 125th in a UK simplicity index (Virgin Atlantic ranked #2). The researchers decided there was nothing simple about booking no-frills Ryanair flights, claiming hidden charges downstream make it hard to compare prices. “Designed to deceive,” they reported.
The dirtball stories are seemingly never ending. In 1988, Ryanair awarded their one-millionth passenger free flights for life. Nine years later they reneged on the deal, with O’Leary saying there was nothing in writing and the prize was unlawful under the Gaming Act.
But as a CEO, even considering the swampy parts of his mind, you could argue that O’Leary gets it done.
Ryanair started operations in 1985 flying a turboprop between Waterford (WAT) and Gatwick (LGW). During the Thatcher ’80s they benefited from deregulation, challenged government-subsidized national carriers and expanded Ryanair routes. In 1991, O’Leary was placed in charge with a mandate of profitability and his thinking was greatly influenced by his experiences flying on Southwest Airlines. The airline reports a passenger count of 79 million in 2011.