Saturday, 28 February 2009
Ryanair - saint or sinner?
I remember a time when a journey via an airport was a bit special, reminiscent of the childhood anticipatory excitement I felt as I boarded a 1970s London bound train at Glasgow Central railway station on an all too infrequent Grandparental visit.
Flying was, well, a luxury: 20 minute check in, through security on a nod, capacious seats, polite & considerate ground and air crew. The flight passing quickly in a well oiled perfectly timed ballet; boarding via a jetty (no trip across the tarmac), the safety briefing, your choice of newspaper, trays down for a meal, unlimited beverages, trays up, a summary of the weather at the destination airport, disembark and through the airport in 10 minutes finding yourself in the actual city you chose to fly to. No over bearing security, no delays, just a dignified efficient experience that reduced travel time considerably.
It's easy to be sentimental about those days, personally I'm not, let me explain: first of all boy did we pay for that privilege - a return flight from Edinburgh to London cost around £250 in the 1980s. Secondly the only regular travelers appeared to be Scottish MPs and stereotypical red braced Masters of the Universe. But that was then and this now; the mass democratisation of flying is a good thing for all of us and has dragged the air industry out of 1950s elitist complacency.
The advent of low cost carriers such as EasyJet and Ryanair has doubtless transformed the evocative journeys of yesteryear to the cattle class air travel which we accept as the norm today - based entirely on the taxi model. We have waved goodbye to; check in staff, being treated with respect by flight crew & security staff, presumed innocence, free baggage, free catering and all the touches that once differentiated air travel from public transport.
Ryanair's Michael O'Leary is oft given a hard time by the press for his airlines cost cutting, remember the fuss over the charges for wheelchairs? I know I run the risk of a barrage of criticism but I welcome his approach. He appears to be a good humoured bullish businessman, who openly runs his business on a shoestring and is content to proclaim it all in the name of low cost efficient flying - those who choose to fly with Ryanair are under no illusions, they get what they pay for and vote with their feet: It is a budget airline, the clue is in the name after all.
In a typically light hearted interview yesterday he mentioned that he might consider charging for use of toilets on flights, the MSM response was predictable: another opportunity to whack one of their least favourite corporate Piñatas. What's the problem? Ryanair are open and honest about what they are; their fare structure and charges are transparent - no illusions no bullshit. If you don't like budget airlines, don't use them - I don't unless I have to.
In these troubled times we could do with a bit more corporate and civic honesty, Mr O'Leary is not a man of our times, he stands alone, he is honest. Honest about cost cutting, charges, profitability and leads his business to focus on the delivery of what his customers want - without ornamentation - and for that we should applaud him, not knock him.
Could do with some more businessmen, bankers and politicians that take the same approach methinks.