Ryanair; where flying is affordable but crossing the moral line…

Ultra-low-cost airline Ryanair made the news in the past week with a huge amount of cancelled flights due to strikes. Its a known secret that Ryanair is not taking too much care of their employees, partners and industry stakeholders but does the airline care? And will it get hurt by the negative attention it receives from this strike?


Let’s go back in time. Before the 90’s, flying was much more expensive than current days. Struggling Irish regional airline Ryanair (owned by the Ryan family) hired Michael ‘O Leary to help them out. He figured that the successful “low-cost model” that he had seen at US-based Southwest airlines could work in Europe too and started setting it up. Ryanair was one of Europe’s first low-cost airlines.

Michael did not only copy the low-cost model of Southwest, he refined it and transformed Ryanair into an ultra-low-cost airline. This is how:

  • Flying 1 type of aircraft
  • Flying to regional, unknown and often locally subsidised
  • Extra costs for every action (including printing a boarding pass at the airport and extremely strict checks on weight and size of hand luggage.
  • Using flex contracts for crew and applying, the very employee protective, Irish employment laws
  • Making sure that saving money is embedded in practically every thought of its employees

Ryanair has indeed made flying affordable for the general public and fares for intra-European flights have decreased a lot. Unkown regions have developed themselves and yes, everyone can fly now.

Is this a win-win-win for all? Or not?

Reliable Bastards

In an article in the Guardian last week Ryanair’s Brand Consultant Dan Gavshon Brady called his employer “reliable bastards”. This is what that entails:

Choosing to fly with Ryanair means that you have a good chance of finding a very good fare (assuming you book early) and that your flight usually leaves in time. This is the reliable part of the designation.

You also know that you will have to follow every crazy, annoying rule that the airline has invented because ignoring them may (and will) lead into financial penalties. If you don’t book any of the extra services offered (priority boarding, seat selection etc) you will get no extra service. According to Dan, that’s the “bastard” part.

Unfortunately, the bastard part continues below.

Morals and ethics (The losers)

In its never-ending quest to save money and offer its customers the lowest prices, many ideas have passed including the, but never implemented, £1 pound toilet fee. Unfortunately, plenty of others have been implemented. A few examples where Ryanair really has crossed the ethical and/or moral line and the losers.

How to treat the crew

A major example where Ryanair, in my opinion (and that of their crews) is crossing the line is how they deal with their cabin crews. Ryanair is known for not paying too well.

  • The 6-week training (takes place in Hahn), the crew get paid £28 per day but have to take care of their own accommodation.
  • The crew has to pay the same for coffee, water and the such as passengers (€3,50 for coffee).
  • Uniforms are not provided but have to be bought for £300 each.
  • Ryanair is threatening crew members that do not make enough commissions out of onboard sales.
  • Ryanair has the right to move crew to other bases with short notice. This is not only unfair but also illegal, as was stated on July 10, 2018, by a Dutch judge (after a case that was started by a crew member).
  • The crew is only getting paid for flight hours but can make duties of over 12 hours of which only 6 are paid)
  • Pilots often complain about the quality of their headsets provided. Its the cheapest one available which often causes pain, headaches and other discomforts while the more expensive sets would avoid this problem.

Crew that have to pay to fly

To keep their licence active, pilots have to make a certain amount of flight hours per year. During the crisis, many pilots that were in danger of losing their license due to having no pilot job could extend their hours at Ryanair. By flying the exact amount of hours on their planes. Nice of them right? But, Ryanair had these pilots pay. Free labour 2015 style… well done!

Illegal subsidies

Plenty of regional airports have offered subsidies to Ryanair if they would start routes to their airport. From the local governments, I understand that offering an incentive to grow tourism and business in the region. However, Ryanair abused these practices to the maximum, starting to demand all kinds of feels, discounts and other subsidies from regional airports and governments; including threatening to pull out of an airport if these would be honoured.

In many cases, this illegal state aid was revoked by European law.

Ryanair makes long-haul flying more expensive

By going after the lucrative and profitable Point-to-point routes, Ryanair is competing with the big network carriers in Europe that rely on their European networks to feed their long-haul flights.

Because the European feeder flights are getting less profitable, prices for long-haul tickets will increase over the years. (Unless the network airlines start working together with Ryanair to perform these feeder flights for them).

Bottom line:

So, is Ryanair; the airline that made over €1.300.000.000 of profit in 2017 and has made flying affordable for all, really this good airline or are they crossing all ethical boundaries with double digits?

The recent strikes and cancellations will, unfortunately, have zero impact on Ryanair because humans are simple and predictable and will definitely book again with Ryanair if they have to choose between a €19 or a €69 fare. Too bad because I honestly hope this airline starts realising it’s their people, their crew, office workers and other employees, that go the extra mile and make this profit happen.

So next time you book that cheap flight with them or make a deal for your company, putting your customers on a Ryanair flight, don’t forget where that extremely low price comes from! Becuase yes, if you join the game, you are just as guilty!

6 Responses
  1. They made flying in Europe affordable so in that sense; yes.
    But for the rest; the airline and it’s practices are a plague to the industry in my opinion

  2. Joost van Loon

    You can always resign and search for another job. Mr. O’Leary did an amazing job by providing us Europeans with cheap flights through Europe. I’m flying for just €20 – €30 to all ow Europe from my local airport.

    1. Joe

      Yes it is awful and it is a great service of you to write about the bad conditions. Maybe then people will stop working for them and they will have to raise employee satisfaction.
      BUT I agree with Joost. Nobody is forcing Ryanair employees to work there.
      We have the same discussion here in Germany about supermarkets opening until late in the evening.
      Mainstream press constantly moans about employees HAVING TO work long hours and almost everyone starts virtue signalling about how awful it is for the employees and that it is perfectly reasonable to expect customers to do all their shopping weekdays before 6 PM and on Saturday before 2 PM. My goodness, think of the poor supermarket staff. Sunday’s in Germany is like a ghost town but that’s another discussion.
      So people get all hot and bothered and want the government to regulate the opening hours to PROTECT the employees (most of whom are female). But nobody gives a moments thought to all the industry workers doing rotating shifts (3 days early, 3 days late shift, 3 days night shift (most of whom are male). Sales staff do their training knowing full well that the hours can be long and the shifts can be moved about.
      Let’s all just stay in the dark ages and have the government regulate everything and stifle progress.
      Joost and the author are right to point out the amazing job o’Leary did (which is what he is being paid to do BTW) and the result is cheap flightst. We need more o’Learys and not less. Why don’t we learn from him about how to reach our goals and strive for more more more? We need more competition and not more regulation.
      A true free market would take care of this. No subsidies, no special privileges, a true free market.
      Good article, though ! Apart from the last sentence which I find a bit condescending. :-).

  3. Hello Joost,
    I disagree with you; never forget who the souls are that build your empire. People are not disposable.

    If you only care about low prices, I’m the last one to hold you back but never forget who the losers in this game are. Maybe you should read the article once more and reconsider your opinion.

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About Ingmar Bruinsma

Ingmar Bruinsma is an entrepreneur in the travel industry. He also provides consultancy services in the field of marketing, business development to clients in travel & aviation. He blogs about topics in tourism, travel, aviation, digital marketing.

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