The Ryanair share price has seen gains of over 3.5% today after the budget airline, Europe’s largest, returned to the skies above Europe today. But it has been far from a smooth return to operations with both customers and staff highly critical of how the company has handled itself throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Notoriously pugnacious CEO Michael O’Leary threatened Ryanair’s pilots with the sack if they didn’t accept pay cuts. With little choice they eventually backed down and have accepted cuts of 20% but social media has also overflown with criticism that the airline is behaving irresponsibly by resuming operations. Its seating arrangements are famous for packing as many passengers into a small space as possible.
1000 daily flights have, as of today, been resumed around the UK, Ireland and continental Europe, up from the 250-day that started to fly during the last week of June. A skeleton service of several flights a day was maintained over April and May.
Never one to keep his head down, Mr O’Leary has been heavily present in the media, promoting the idea that European families have earned a well-deserved holiday and that Ryanair is ready to jet them off to their chosen destinations. Flights have been selling at from just €19.99 each and the company claims strong demand.
100,000 passengers were due to fly with the company today and Ryanair expects to carry around 6 million passengers in August and 4.5 million this month. Those figures are only around half of what estimates for the holiday season had been but still far more than seemed possible just a few short weeks ago.
Ryanair had modest beginnings as an Irish regional airline when founded in the 1980s. But the arrival of Mr O’Leary in the 1990s saw the company revolutionise the European airline and tourism markets through the introduction of the low-cost model. As CEO he refused to recognise unions, paid staff as little as possible and dropped traditional inflight services such as a meal and refreshments. Routes were optimised with high frequency, rapid turnarounds.
The approach bore fruit and Ryanair is arguably the most successful airline company in the world. Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit it had forecast 154 million passengers would be carried in 2020.
There is little doubting Mr O’Leary’s role in the huge success Ryanair has had as a company. But his no-nonsense, direct attitude and unwillingness to pander to popular opinion has also often rubbed the public and customers up the wrong way.
And his bullish attitude to getting the Ryanair fleet back up in the air now caused something of a social media storm. Twitter users have gone into meltdown, accusing the company and its CEO of a reckless attitude to public health as well as dragging its heels over refunding cancelled flights.
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