Why Ryanair keeps making money and losing surveys

rynair commercial airplane

Photo by Marc Linder on Pexels.com

For the sixth year in succession, Ryanair is voted worse airline by its own customers. Yet despite numerous survey results reporting poor reliability, pilot strikes, poor customer relations, and eccentric leadership, it continues to remain profitable. So how does it do it?

Over the years LWD has examined the leadership styles found in various airlines. It has been a rewarding trawl for examples of buckaneering entrepreneurs. Michael O’Leary of RyanAir is an egregious example.

Business school types (OK, myself included) rather poo-pooed his style. He was brash,  and exploited the admiration his bad- boy image attracted . In hindsight, I see parallels with aspects of Donald Trump’s success in the Presidential primaries and then election,  as rivals and critics under-estimated his potential and awaited his downfall.

Nevertheless, regardless of highly adverse news stories, Ryanair prospered. O’Leary suggested that such stories merely drew attention to his unique selling point of presenting itself as the lowest price airline, regardless of the anger of travellers (or worse, would-be travellers suffering flight cancellations).  

I suspect the question is particularly puzzling to non-users who are all to aware of  the negative news stories, and decide that the advertised low prices come with too many risks. The company has another explanation. The surveys, they sniff, are ‘too small’. [Like other claims from Ryanair this hardly survives close scrutiny. The recent survey was of around 8000 respondents.] 

I offer comments from two satisfied Ryanair customers who has used the airline more than once. 

Cameron: My experience with Ryan was a quick one, however efficient and reliable. I recently used Ryan air when I flew out to Majorca with my Dad and Sister. Ryan air were quick with check in- albeit online, friendly and the flight landed 30 minutes ahead of schedule. However the leg room and plain features with limited items available on the in flight trolley, made my flight quite mundane. Nonetheless, an all round good experience with minimal issues.

Conor: My experiences were wholly good. You get what you pay for. Anything more would have seemed luxury but that’s all I’ve known until recently. For short flights at low prices there’s very little wrong with it in my experience.

The profitability of the airline has not come without hitting a lot of turbulence. Recently, [late 2018] its pilots protested pay and working conditions in a damaging strike.

According to the BBC report:

Many Ryanair staff have been on strike across Europe.

Earlier this month, there was a 24-hour walk-out involving staff in Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

About 50,000 passengers were understood to be involved in the cancellation of 400 flights.

Ryanair has cancelled 600 flights that were due to fly this week but says the majority of European customers are not affected.

In July, 300 Ryanair flights were cancelled when cabin crews in Belgium, Portugal and Spain went on strike for 48 hours.

Earlier this month, there was a 24-hour walk-out involving staff in Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands.


Scanning the back posts of LWD, I note very few references to Ryanair. An article on no-frills (peanut airlines) concentrates on South West Airlines, much loved in business cases. Wikipedia still contrasts the two airlines, placing emphasis on a culture coming from CEO O’Leary:

O’Leary has a reputation for loose talk in the airline industry and among its regulators. Many press articles have often described him as arrogant, and prone to making comments which he later contradicts. He has been extravagantly outspoken in his public statements, sometimes resorting to personal attacks and foul language. His abrasive management style, ruthless pursuit of cost-cutting and his explicitly hostile attitude towards corporate competitors, airport authorities, governments, unions and customers has become a hallmark. He was reported to have been aggressive and hostile in dealings with a woman who was awarded free flights for life in 1988.


According to wikipedia [downloaded January 18 2019]:

In 2007, [O’Leary] was forced to retract a claim that Ryanair had cut emissions of carbon dioxide by half over the previous five years; the claim should have been that emissions ‘per passenger’ had been cut by half. O’Leary has been reported to have impersonated a journalist in an attempt to find information passed on to a newspaper following a safety incident on a Ryanair flight.On occasion he has apologised for personal attacks under threat of legal action.He has been criticized by a judge for lying, who said he was lucky not to be found guilty of contempt of court.In April 2017, he called concerns about climate change “complete nonsense”.

In a press conference discussing Ryanair’s planned intercontinental service RyanAtlantic, O’Leary jokingly described the airline’s planned business class travel experience as featuring “whores and rum”.


Later, he was to announce a more friendly culture towards customers. I welcome further information on this change of heart. 


One Response to Why Ryanair keeps making money and losing surveys

  1. Allan Cameron says:

    The survey results are strange. I must have flown with Ryanair about 40 times. The planes are usually new or newish, they usually arrive on time, and the customer service and food are perfectly adequate. I have also flown Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Virgin, Easyjet, BA, Swissair, Flybe, and Austrian Airlines and I don’t think any of these carriers are significantly better. Perhaps I have just been lucky but 40 times?!

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