Sunday 28 December 2014

Miriam Donohue: Michael: you may be rude, arrogant and over the top – but we all owe you

Published 01/11/2013 | 01:55

Ryanair's unique CEO Michael O'Leary
Ryanair's unique CEO Michael O'Leary

Dear Michael,

I was going to send a tweet, now that "they" have you on the Twitter, but I couldn't express myself in only 140 characters.

I am writing out of concern that "they" are going to ruin you, and Ryanair, by getting rid of the snarling, rude, arrogant Michael O'Leary we have gotten to know and hate over the past 19 years.

"They" are promising a new, touchy-feely, softer Ryanair. And shock, horror a nice MOL – somebody sweet, caring and compassionate.

How scary a prospect is that?

Michael, in my book if something is not broken, why fix it? I can't figure out why "they" want to change you, given your enviable record of building Ryanair into one of the world's most successful and profitable airlines.

Since taking over as chief executive in 1994 you have successfully piloted Ryanair to massive success with operations now in 29 countries, more than 81 million customers annually and some of the lowest fares in Europe. What other airline can boast delivery of a new fleet of more than 300 aircraft?

You can take credit through your aggressive, low-cost strategy for opening up airline travel to people for whom taking a flight was only a dream. Thanks to you we can take that extra winter sun holiday, a weekend city break to a European capital previously out of reach, and the quick last-minute visit to a loved one who, for economic reasons, had to go abroad to seek work.

Thanks to you, armies of soccer and rugby fans are able to support our national and club teams abroad.

I guess "they" include the shareholders who criticised you at Ryanair's annual general meeting in September, saying the airline was coming across as too "macho". You must have been rattled because you said afterwards you were probably responsible for that perception, and that Ryanair needed to soften its harder edges.

Now it has been announced that a new director is to be hired to persuade Europe's travelling public that the airline is lovable again. Actually, it was never lovable in the first place.

Part of this uncharacteristic softening-up exercise is an online webform where passengers can directly contact you with suggestions on how Ryanair can further improve its industry-leading customer service. You are also getting involved in Twitter Q & A sessions with customers.

It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. You started off on Twitter desperately trying to be nice, but I was glad to see your dislikeable, devilish nature came through.

Your true side was exposed in one exchange with a passenger who commended Ryanair for the care and service she received during a flight after breaking her ankle. You responded by saying: "Fly again soon or we'll break your other ankle."

And you can still make fun of yourself. Asked by another tweeter how you managed to look so youthful, you responded: "Digital photograph and computer tech does wonders for ugly 52-year-olds".

When quizzed about the possibility of charging to use the loo, you said: "Not likely. Pee for free on Ryanair". Phew!

You are rude and obnoxious but that is part of your brand. I would hate to be one of your employees. You have infuriated us with some of your rough antics. And you have given us some hilarious moments with over-the-top PR stunts down through the years.

Don't you be bullied now into becoming somebody you are not. You have always had a brusque and abrasive style, which has frequently grated with passengers. But that did not stop you making airline travel accessible to all. We all owe you.

I don't care that you don't give me a free cup of tea. Or that you charge me a fortune for airline food. Or that I have to meticulously weigh my luggage every time I take a flight with you.

And I forgive you for that time I forgot to print off my boarding pass and you charged me €70 (and the flight only cost me €30).

But you have rules and I am happy to play by them once you get me from A to B cheaply and safely. And you do.

A new, sweet Michael O'Leary just won't do it for me. Don't let "them", and the whingers, get to you. Please don't go all PC on us. Don't lose your liathroidi. If you do you are going to lose one loyal customer.

You are flying high as it is, Michael. Don't change.

Yours etc,

Miriam Donohoe

P.S. I do think the website needs a radical redesign. It's appalling. Please include a facility where customers can have their details automatically stored to make repeat bookings easier.

Irish Independent

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