Ryanair CEO says swine flu ‘only a risk to slum dwellers’


LONDON – The deadly strain of swine flu spreading rapidly across the globe is only a danger to slum dwellers in Mexico and Asia, the chief executive of Europe’s leading budget airline was quoted as saying yesterday.

Notoriously outspoken Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary dismissed warnings that the disease could become a global pandemic, according to the Times of London, and said swine flu – like other diseases before it – would have little effect on Europeans.

“Are we going to die from swine flu? No. Are we in danger of SARS? No. Foot and mouth disease? No. Will it affect people flying short-haul flights around Europe this summer? Thankfully, no,” the paper quoted O’Leary as saying.

“It is a tragedy only for people living … in slums in Asia or Mexico,” O’Leary was quoted as saying.

“But will the honeymoon couple from Edinburgh die? No. A couple of Strepsils (a brand of English throat lozenges) will do the job.”

O’Leary was referring to the Scottish couple who became Britain’s first confirmed cases of swine flu on Monday after returning from a Mexican honeymoon. Both have reported only suffering only very mild symptoms.

The virus is suspected of causing more than 150 deaths in Mexico and is believed to have made hundreds more ill, including more than 60 people in the United States.

The United States and a number of other countries, including Canada, Israel, France and the European Union’s disease control agency have warned against non-essential travel to Mexico.

Repeated calls and emails seeking comment from the Dublin-based airline late yesterday were not immediately returned.

O’Leary has a knack for making headlines with jaw-dropping statements: In February he floated the idea of charging passengers a British pound coin for access to the toilet.

His airline has also been criticised for insensitivity: In 2005 Ryanair was investigated by Britain’s ad watchdog for a publicity campaign which referenced the 2005 London bombings to promote low fares.

The watchdog said the campaign fell short of causing widespread offence but still called the ads “extremely tasteless”.