O’Leary’s Ryanair: Hated Passionately for Doing Things Better

There’s a reason everyone hates Michael O’Leary.

Not only has he come up with bombastic ideas such as pay-per-use toilets and inflight porn, but he’s also one of Ireland’s richest men.

The CEO of Irish holiday airline Ryanair is quite the individual, at least from a distance. The man is responsible for many things, especially Ryanair’s more-than-distasteful corporate schemes, something he receives attention for more than he should.

While Ryanair maybe the world’s least classy airline, it is without a doubt one of the most successful. In 2011, traffic grew 10% to 72 million passengers, up from 65 million in 2010. They’re the most punctual airline in Europe and have the fewest lost bags of any major European airline.

If people hate it so much, then why does traffic continue to grow? Like I found out this past summer, the Ryanair experience is cheap, efficient, and even, gasp, enjoyable.

Just logging on to the Ryanair website is an assault on the senses. Flashing popup banners, sale alerts, and the bright yellow color awaits users when they log on.

Ryanair is widely regarded as one of the world’s tackiest airlines. They charge you €40 to check in at the airport, have an €6 “administrative fee” assessed on ticket bookings, and anywhere between €20-€55 to check in a single bag. When viewed on their own, these fees seem outrageous and out of place. If you just take time to familiarize yourself with the rules and charges, an experience on Ryanair isn’t all that terrible.

Passenger experience

I wrote a review of my trip from Brussels to Fes on Ryanair this June, which I actually enjoyed. We arrived at Brussels South-Charleroi Airport, which isn’t technically in Brussels.  It’s about 80km from Brussels-Zaventem International Airport, in the rolling countryside of Charleroi. However, there’s a shuttle that runs from Brussels (BRU) to Charleroi (CRL) for €12. The ride takes about an hour, and the bus is clean and convenient.

This is how Ryanair keeps their fares low. They fly into municipal and regional airports instead of their international counterparts. While the airport may be called Brussels South, it’s like calling BWI Airport Washington North. These airports are top choice for Ryanair because they usually have less traffic, meaning more on-time flights and quicker turnarounds. The Brussels Charleroi base for Ryanair is now one of their largest.

We had printed our boarding passes online in advance, which you are allowed to do up to 15 days before the flight. After dropping our bags, we proceeded through security and boarded the plane.

Ryanair allows you to purchase priority boarding for €5. This basically boots you to the front of the line, giving you the opportunity to be one of the first aboard. They also have an open-seating policy, like that of Southwest Airlines.

Onboard, the flight attendants were polite and professional, despite the sales pitch. Once we got to cruising altitude, the infamous Ryanair goods-hawking begins. The crew starts by offering snacks and drinks, then duty free, then lottery scratch-off cards and various raffle tickets. It’s tacky, yes, but no one is forcing you to buy anything. The food is by far the most popular seller, I didn’t see anyone buy duty free or lotto tickets.

We arrive into Fes around a half-hour early. Yes, a half-hour. In traditional Ryanair fashion, they tout the early arrival with the prerecorded sound of trumpets and a recorded male voice explaining our good fortune over the Boeing 737’s PA system (click for a video of this hilarious event).

The bottom line is that Ryanair is a well-run airline. Love it or hate it, if you familiarize yourself with the rules and fees, you can have an enjoyable experience. Even with charges factored in, it’s one of the cheapest flying experiences you can have.

The efficiency is unbeatable. On our return to Brussels from Marrakesh, we went from airplane to bag claim in under 25 minutes, and we spent a good chunk of that time at passport control. Just an hour later, we were at our hotel in Brussels City.

Ryanair by the numbers

Airline with highest ontime ranking, according to Association of European Airlines (2009). *RTP denotes a refusal to publish.

  1. Ryanair – 93% ontime
  2. Lufthansa – 85% ontime
  3. Air France and British Airways – 83% ontime
  4. Aer Lingus – 82% ontime
  5. Iberia – 70% ontime
  6. easyJet – *RTP

Ryanair customer service statistics for February 2011 (~30,000 flights)

  • Ontime flights: 92%
  • Complaints per 1,000 pax: 1.88
  • Baggage complaints per 1,000 pax: 0.16 (note: Ryanair average per 1,000 pax is 0.36 bag complaints)
  • Complaints answered within seven days: 99%

Note on statistics: The preceding statistics are from Ryanair’s inflight magazine. They were provided to Ryanair from Aer Lingus, easyJet, and the ACEA. Internal statistics were provided by Ryanair.