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Ryanair - sad clown in the airline circus

Jul 28, 2009

Ryanair saw its shares drop 13 percent yesterday, after it announced that it yearly profits will likely be lower than hoped. In fact, the discount Irish airline saw a three-month net income 20 million euros below what was anticipated.

What's seemingly strange about this—and yes, in this case, an airline with bad financial news could be considered "strange"—is that until recently, Ryanair had managed to soar when other airlines struggled. Over the last 10 years, the airline was up 323.4 percent.

Could this current downturn suggest changing winds for the plucky Ryanair? Let's look at the evidence. Recently Ryanair has made more noise for its unorthodox business schemes than its fiscal prowess. The list of truly awful, comically bad business ideas they've put forth is long:

1) Last year Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary announced that the airline was considering a ban on checked luggage on selected flights. This would no doubt quicken airport check-in time and reduce fuel costs. The downside to this plan, however, is that once you get to the gate it would likely take you about five hours to board. Think about it. You know that one passenger who decides to not check luggage and brings a giant roll-y suitcase to the airport anyway, then double-oh-seven's his way through security and then takes 30 minutes to cram said roll-y luggage into the overhead bin while people stand behind him very patiently waiting to sit down and read their US Weekly in peace thankyouverymuch? Now imagine that's every passenger.

Last month, O'Leary announced that he wanted to ban all check-in luggage, in favor of unlimited carry-on luggage that passengers would deposit in the cargo space and then retrieve later. Is it still "carry-on luggage" if it's stored in cargo? And how will the airport security feel about scanning all Ryanair luggage at their checkpoint, in person? These are but a few burning questions in O'Leary's anti-luggage campaign.

2) In February, when O'Leary mentioned the airline might start charging a pound for lavatory access, a Ryanair spokesperson was quick to dismiss his comment as a kind of public, stream-of-consciousness brainstorming session. The spokesperson referred to O'Leary's comment as a reflection of the airline's "obsession" (creepy) with reducing costs and not a serious proposal. It was just a few days later that O'Leary publicly contradicted his own spokesperson saying that, no really, he was being serious when he said he'd charge people for bathroom privileges.

3) Ryanair's recent suggestion that they might provide "standing room only" access for passengers on some flights was, surprisingly, not a resounding failure. Some passengers would stand for a short-duration flight, according to a poll the airline conducted. Its decision to link to a YouTube video that is ruthlessly critical of its standing-room-only proposal from its own Web site, however, is just downright perplexing.

So perhaps Ryanair's cut-costs-at-any-cost policies are finally catching up with it. The above list doesn't cover the airline's other assorted gaffes, including but not limited to: a passenger's mushroom-soup-induced allergic reaction and a Ryanair employee's very public online verbal altercation with a blogger.

In fact, the airline has drawn such ridicule that one blogger, AirlineReporter, has created the "More Crazy Than Ryanair Medal" to honor those airlines that approach Ryanair's nuttiness through unusual innovations or straight-up unorthodoxy.

It seems that Ryanair has become a sad clown—its antics make us laugh, but there's usually a cream pie waiting for Ryanair around the corner.

Ryanair - sad clown in the airline circus
Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary / Image via


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