Monday 11 December 2017

O'Leary hits back at UK watchdog's 'inappropriate' attacks

Martin Hickman

After being described as "puerile" and "almost childish" by the Office of Fair Trading in the UK, it was only a matter of time before Europe's most combative airline boss retaliated.

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary duly obliges today, but with an uncharacteristically formal response – accusing the regulator of bias and of failing to end allegedly dubious practices at other carriers.

In a two-page letter to the OFT's chief executive John Fingleton, he said his airline wished to register its "deep concern and protest" about "inappropriate and inaccurate comments" given by Mr Fingleton in an interview with The Independent newspaper.

"The false claims attributed to you in this article are indicative of a continuing and inappropriate bias by the OFT against Ryanair, which is the UK's largest international passenger airline," Mr O'Leary wrote.

In a frank interview, Mr Fingleton accused Ryanair of "almost taunting" British customers by levying a £5 fee on credit card payments. Airlines are legally obliged to advertise compulsory fees up front to allow customers to shop around, but Ryanair only adds its booking fee at the end of the booking process, on the basis that passengers can avoid it by using prepaid Mastercard.

Mr Fingleton complained: "Ryanair has this funny game where they have found some low-frequency payment mechanism and say: 'Well, because you can pay with that [the charge is optional].' It's almost like taunting consumers and pointing out: 'Oh well, we know this is completely outside the spirit of the law, but we think it's within the narrow letter of the law'." He added: "On some level, it's quite puerile, it's almost childish."

In his letter dated 11 January, Mr O'Leary protested: "The role of the OFT is not to subjectively comment on the pricing policies of airlines, but to identify and confirm whether those policies comply with legislation. Ryanair's pricing policies are fully compliant with current legislation."

He explained Ryanair chose prepaid Mastercard because it was more widely available abroad and denied another complaint, that it forced customers to opt out if they did not want insurance.

On the other hand, Mr O'Leary complained, the OFT had failed to take action against "three important consumer protection areas" – British Airways' "unfair and unjustified fuel levies"; websites selling Ryanair tickets "at hidden and inflated prices"; and easyJet "who continue to offer travel insurance on an opt-out basis".

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