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Michael O'Leary and Ryanair are great for passengers and for Ireland

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O'Leary - always outrageous, always in the headlines.
Ryanair. If you live in America and you know the name Ryanair it's probably because (a) you know the airline is legendary for its abysmal customer service and/or (b) you know of Ryanair's Chief Executive, Michael O'Leary, who adores playing the clown, saying the most outrageous things – especially when there are members of the media around.

The media and people in general in Ireland, in England and pretty much anywhere Ryanair flies love to moan about Ryanair. The 'customer service stinks,' the 'hidden charges are unfair,' the flights 'take you to airports way out in the sticks' (Dublin Airport is unusually central) and, of course, 'O'Leary is an arrogant windbag.'

You know something? It's all true. You know something else? I don't care. I love Ryanair. Okay, 'love' is the wrong word, but generally speaking I am quite a contented customer. In fact, I'm so contented that I've often wondered if O'Leary would deliberately sabotage my travel plans if he knew because O'Leary gives the impression that contented customers are the last thing he wants.
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Yet, I have flown on Ryanair many times and despite the poor customer service, despite the lack of comfort, despite the constant selling by the cabin crew and despite the fact you have to line up like a kid waiting for the school bus in order to board the plane I keep coming back for more. Why? Because the cost of flights for the whole family is the lowest in Europe and from what I can tell, lower than any airline offers in America.

back of a Ryanair seat showing safety instructions
Ryanair airplanes.
No seat pockets means no safety cards -
painted on back of seat instead.
{Photo thanks to Wikipedia.}
Over the past five years we have been to England, Scotland, Belgium, France and Germany on Ryanair. We've been to most of those places more than once. The most we ever paid for flights was €150 ($200) - for five tickets. Most of our trips cost just under €100 ($135). Again, that's five tickets. A few years back I was able to get 4 round trip tickets to London for €0.08 (that is 10¢, one dime).

We have been able take the children places and show them things I never thought would be possible thanks to Ryanair.

Sure it can be annoying. You have to be willing to go when they want you to go. You have to use the 'right' card to buy your tickets. You have to pack lightly and tightly. You have to be willing to endure discomfort for 60-90 minutes. You have to play by Ryanair's rules. We're able to manage all that, which is why we fly Ryanair.

We're not alone either. Ryanair is one of the world's most popular airlines, despite being almost universally loathed. 74m passengers will fly on Ryanair this year. I don't know how many of those are contented passengers, but O'Leary doesn't care if they're contented so long as they keep coming back.

As for O'Leary, his clownish behavior and outrageousness is so transparently a marketing ploy that I'm amazed the media hasn't started ignoring him. Ryanair doesn't use advertising to publicize the fact it's the lowest cost airline in Europe. It uses press releases or O'Leary's mouth to get that job done.

Whenever there's a lull in the news O'Leary pops up with an announcement that Ryanair will get rid of co-pilots or charge passengers to use the bathroom or allow to passengers to watch pornography on board or whatever. He says something shocking. The media loves it and reports it breathlessly. All of this has the effect of reinforcing one message: Ryanair is cheap.

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All of which keeps Ryanair's shareholders sweet and O'Leary does care about those people. You can tell O'Leary cares about Ryanair's shareholders because when he's on CNBC the clownishness is replaced by seriousness as he discusses passenger load figures, revenues, aircraft purchases, etc.

Shareholders, in turn, may not love O'Leary, but they're probably contented too. Despite difficult trading conditions for European airlines, Ryanair is growing bigger and more profitable.

Ads on the planes -
another revenue stream for Ryanair
{Photo from Ken Fielding}
At some point O'Leary will step down. At the moment he's the closest thing Ireland has to Steve Jobs. Although he's more like the 'anti-Jobs.' Everyone knows O'Leary, identifies him closely with the business he runs, but generally he's despised as is the company he heads.

The Irish media loves to lambaste O'Leary and Ryanair, but both have been great for this country. Where other businessmen have headed for tax exile, O'Leary has remained in Ireland.

Ryanair can take a lot of the credit for the competitive air fares and the boom in tourist numbers Ireland has experienced over the past 20 years. Soon Ryanair will be the biggest company on the Irish stock exchange. It is already the best Irish company.

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