Most of us have a Ryanair horror story to recount. My own version occurred at the end of a trip to my then Czech girlfriend in Prague. I blame Ryanair for the end of that affair. Though it was also my own fault for getting into a post-modern, long-distance relationship.
Anyway, we’d just spent a week together before Christmas in wintertime Czech Republic, taking in a memorable cross-country ski trip and a few days in Prague, which is sprinkled with magic over Christmas: outdoor markets with steaming hot wine and trinkets, interspersed with happy burghers, in a toy town setting.
On the last night, however, relations were strained. “Where are we going with this?”, we both wondered. Some space after the heady immersion would do us no harm.
The following morning I set off for the airport with a sense of coming up for air, notwithstanding my deep affection for her; she too was looking forward to getting her routines back, away from the maniac Irishman.
It was a bitterly cold morning, a frost hung in the air under a marble-glassy-sky. A portentous gloom was apparent as I caught the smoothly-efficient, and cheap, public transport to Prague Airport, arriving in good time for my Ryanair flight.
I proceeded through the baggage checks and passport control without incident, and found the gate for Dublin listed for 8:30, settling into my book before boarding. But the gods were not smiling on me that day. In a flash of awareness I realised the flight I was awaiting began with the prefix EI, rather than FR.
This was an Aer Lingus flight! I swiftly discovered that Ryanair was leaving at 8:15, which gave me a few minutes still. I took off as fast as my legs could carry me to the Ryanair gate. There, I found two attendants waiting at the glass door to the runway, and could see the aircraft nearby outside with people still boarding. Saved! Or so I thought.
When I presented my boarding pass I received a shock. “I am sorry the gate is closed”, was the stony response from a lady, who, in another era, might have denied bread to someone with the wrong ration card.
“But the plane hasn’t left, I can see people boarding”, I cried in rising consternation. Her programmed response suggested I was not the first to be confused by the proximity in departure times, and that this was part of her job: “You can purchase a ticket for tomorrow morning for €150”.
I pleaded with her, told her I was broke, brought every emotional ruse to bear, including summoning tears. But she was an immovable stone to my emotional wave, and kept repeating the mantra of the price of the ticket for the following morning.
Then an older Czech woman arrived who may have made the same mistake, or just been late. She was given the same stock response in Czech. She put on a really impressive show, wailing like a banshee before a lady who, alas, was not for turning. We watched on in horror as the last of the passengers snaked on to the aircraft, a mere fifty paces away.
I then went to the Aer Lingus desk seeking another flight for that day, but was quoted an astronomical figure. When I got to the Ryanair desk they immediately presented me with a bill of €150 for the following day’s flight. They seemed quite familiar with this routine.
So I scuttled back into Prague that grim morning, filled with foreboding. In hindsight I should have booked a hotel but I’d already taken a significant financial hit. The day went as badly as might have been expected. It was never the same afterwards.
Ryanair’s success is built on people making mistakes, such as mine. Of course they brought down the cost of flying considerably, but profitability depends on inflicting misery on an unlucky minority.
It’s as ruthless a form of capitalism as can be imagined, inducing a stress the like of which never existed before Michael O’Leary got involved in aviation.
Of course other airlines aren’t much better anymore, and also treat their passengers with all the warmth we extend to numbers on a spreadsheet. But O’Leary is the dark prince who re-wrote the rule book, and consumers should recall what kind of character we are dealing with.
There is a story – apocryphal perhaps – about him from a period when he ran a newsagent in the Dublin suburbs. It was Christmas day and the ever-vigilant O’Leary stayed open when other shops were closed.
Sniffing an easy buck, the arch-opportunist quadrupled the price of batteries and lay in wait for the kiddies to come in search of them for their Christmas toys. He knew they would beseech their unfortunate parents to pay over the odds.
The story conjures an image of O’Leary dressed as Santa Clause for one of his giveaways. But really the big bad wolf lies underneath.
To become a multi-billionaire probably takes a degree of ruthlessness akin to that of a war lord of yore. What could drive a man (it seems to be a Y-chromosome thing) to seek such extraordinary wealth and power? There are only so many cars to drive and mistresses you can keep. Why do we allow unaccountable wealth like this to accumulate, while millions are still malnourished?
O’Leary masquerades as a country squire on his cattle farm and conveniently denies human responsibility Climate Change. He also refuses to recognise or negotiate with unions. He’s a decidedly sinister role model.
The recent cancellations of hundreds of Ryanair flights shows that his pilots are mustering opposition against him. Let us support them by boycotting Ryanair, where possible. For motivation just remember the stress he has probably already caused you.
We should really be reducing our carbon footprints by taking longer holidays, rather than short breaks according to the Ryanair model. Also, there is a ferry and rail deal that takes one anywhere in the UK for just over €50, and you don’t have to book it long in advance. Be the change you want to see in the world, and hurt this guy in the one place he feels it.