Wednesday 25 April 2018

Donal O'Donovan: Michael O'Leary's 'unloved' airline could now lose 'reliable' tag

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Imagine that instead of Ryanair, one of its rival airlines had announced a six-week schedule of rolling flight cancellations and blamed the situation on – essentially – a glitch with the rosters.

Imagine Michael O’Leary’s scornful response: the sneering press conferences, the full-page attack ads and ultimately, the no-holds-barred fight the Irish airline boss would make to capitalise on the misfortunes and failings of weaker rivals.

He’d be right to do it. In business, the race should always go to the swift, and the battle to the strong – including airlines that get their planes to deliver passengers to and from the destinations they’ve sold tickets for.

Ryanair has admitted it can’t do that in a significant number of cases. It is an entirely unsatisfactory situation to leave customers in – Ryanair has charged for a service it’s not able to deliver. 

It’s a particularly damaging state of affairs for an airline with a reputation as the unlikeable, but reliable workhorse of European aviation. 

Being unloved and unreliable would be a very different proposition – one that will have to be turned around quickly by Ryanair, which will come at a cost.

While the airline isn’t commenting, there’s little doubt that its rostering difficulties are made more difficult by the challenge Ryanair has in attracting and retaining aircrew.

It is already paying a signing-on bonus for some new joiners – it may have to do more: on pay, on conditions, or on corporate culture to make that effort  bear fruit.

In a global market full of well-paid alternatives for pilots, Ryanair can’t be the biggest airline in Europe without also becoming the employer of choice.

It won’t go unnoticed that O’Leary spent recent weeks publicly running the rule over Alitalia and Air Berlin, while operations in his own airline were sliding into the current mess. 

Shareholders might now want him to shift focus back home.

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