Saturday 19 August 2017

Ryanair and the French accordion player - the true story of a viral video that flew around the world

'We do things differently in Ireland...'

Francois Colussi (right) on board the Ryanair flight
Francois Colussi (right) on board the Ryanair flight
Francois Colussi in action. Photo by permission of Francois Colussi
Francois takes his accordion to the Wild Atlantic Way on Achill Island, where he runs 'Pure Magic' Kitesurfing.
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

As headlines go, it was perfect. 'Ryanair flight attendant asks man to open bag... and soon the whole flight is singing.'

It promised. It intrigued. It delivered.

When you clicked, you were rewarded with a genuinely heart-warming scene. A confused Frenchman on a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Nice, asked to reveal the contents of a bag on his lap... and plucking out a "squeeze box".

"What is this? An accordion?" one of the flight attendants asked. "This is an Irish company and you have to play the accordion."

So he did. And soon a plane-load of passengers joined in.

Since then, the video has been viewed almost 20 million times on Facebook alone, and featured in publications ranging from Ireland to the UK, US and India.

"Meanwhile in Ireland... Ryanair are no United Airlines," quipped The Irish Post, referring to the now-infamous incident in which passenger David Dao was dragged down the aisle of a United aircraft, before being removed from the flight.

"It was just this little moment of magic," says Francois Colussi, the man at the centre of the video, sharing his story exclusively with Independent.ie Travel.

But was the video a genuine moment, or a pre-rehearsed PR stunt, as some on social media have suggested? What was the real story behind it?

Colussi lives in Ireland, where he runs the Pure Magic kitesurfing centres in Achill Island and Dublin, as well as the city's Battle for the Bay watersports festival.

While travelling to Nice, he says he bumped into a friend - Clontarf businessman Ronan Morris, of Together Digital - and the two managed to switch seats for a chat.

It was then that the plan for mischief was hatched.

Francois takes his accordion to the Wild Atlantic Way on Achill Island, where he runs 'Pure Magic' Kitesurfing.
Francois takes his accordion to the Wild Atlantic Way on Achill Island, where he runs 'Pure Magic' Kitesurfing.

"It was a little magic trick," Colussi says. Shortly afterwards, the pair were asking the Ryanair crew "if they had five minutes to do something unusual."

"We were worried that the stewards would not allow it, but they were very enthusiastic... I mentioned the United Airlines incident, and the idea we had to show how we do things differently in Ireland. They loved the idea!"

A few minutes later, the two cabin crewmembers approached Colussi and asked what was in his bag. "They were very convincing," he says.

The moment itself was improvised, he adds. Asked to play a song, Colussi struck up the opening bars of 'Dirty Old Town', made famous by The Pogues, just a few minutes before the plane was due to begin its final descent.

Unlike other recent airline cabin encounters, this one ended happily with some off-key singing from Morris... clapped along by dozens of fellow passengers.

What did Ryanair think of it all?

"As Europe's most punctual airline, Ryanair customers are already used to hearing our on-time arrival music on landing," the airline told Independent.ie Travel.

Francois Colussi in action. Photo by permission of Francois Colussi
Francois Colussi in action. Photo by permission of Francois Colussi

"All onboard enjoyed this extra bonus track mid–flight."

"There was no intention whatsoever to gain money or to look for fame," Colussi says. "It was just this little moment of magic to make people think... and smile."

He describes it as "a parody" of negative passenger incidents.

Publicity for Pure Magic and the Battle for the Bay festival, due to take place in Dublin next weekend (battleforthebay.com), won't hurt of course.

"So, yes it was a set up but a pretty random one!"

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