Thursday 24 October 2019

Ryanair boss O’Leary's fury over Panorama

O'Leary launched Ryanair's biggest ever free seat give-away hours before Panorama was broadcast. Photo: Getty Images
O'Leary launched Ryanair's biggest ever free seat give-away hours before Panorama was broadcast. Photo: Getty Images

Michael O’Leary is soaring towards his biggest controversy yet.

O’Leary embarked on his biggest ever free seat giveaway just hours before the BBC broadcast the programme last night which included accusations that he ‘squeezes’ his staff like lemons.

The Ryanair chief said his airline would give away 100,000 free seats for “every false claim” made in the Panorama investigation.

The row between the BBC current affairs programme and Ryanair centres on a dispute over an offer of an interview with O’Leary. The programme turned down the interview following a Ryanair demand that it should run unedited.

Instead viewers last night saw reporter Vivian White travel to Dublin for an impromptu encounter with Mr O'Leary on his way out of Ryanair's annual general meeting last month.

Mr O'Leary said the exchange would be cut to “suit the Panorama agenda”.

As well as looking into Ryanair's cost-charging structure for passengers, the programme also examined the airline's dealings with airport operators and aircraft manufacturers.

Last week Ryanair published its correspondence with the Panorama team over the programme, in which Mr O'Leary sent an email to reporter Vivian White, accusing him of becoming “ever more bizarre and desperate” in his research.

However, the reporter did reveal the fact that cabin crew are required to pay £300 (€320) for their uniform during their first year working for the company, only being repaid after 12 months' service. But O’Leary went on the PR offensive against the BBC last night by offering the massive free seat giveaway.

Passengers can travel on these free seats on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in November and early December.

Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara said: “All Ryanair asked for was an uncensored interview so that Ryanair’s answers were not cut or edited to suit Panorama’s hatchet job agenda.

“Today, in another attempt to cover up their failure to give Ryanair a right of reply, the BBC have uploaded the full uncut version of their doorstep interview with Michael O’Leary on the Panorama website. This begs the question why Panorama didn’t want, or wouldn’t agree to, an uncut interview with Michael on the programme itself, which we believe is because it didn’t suit Panorama’s hatchet job agenda.

“Ryanair will give away 100,000 free seats in November and December for every false claim made by Panorama.”

A BBC spokesman said: “I don't think you will find any false claims in the programme.”

On its refusal to grant Mr O'Leary an unedited interview, he said: “No broadcaster could give up editorial control.”

A statement on the Panorama website added: “Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said he would only give Panorama a formal interview for our programme, Why Hate Ryanair?, if we promised to run it totally unedited. We were not prepared to agree to this, but promised Ryanair we would be balanced and fair.”

The website includes a full version of the encounter between the journalist and O’Leary.

O'Leary (44) is among Ireland's richest men, with an estimated fortune of €300m. His airline is a staggeringly successful business: in 1985, it employed 51 people and shuttled 5,000 passengers between Britain and Ireland. It is now Europe's most profitable carrier, with 2,600 staff and a network of 233 routes stretching as far afield as Poland, Finland and Lithuania. It expects to carry 35 million travellers this year.

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