30 July 2008

Life lessons from Ryanair

Earlier this week Ryanair, the world's least favourite airline, issued a profit warning, turning its earlier rosy forecasts of 10% growth in profit into 10% reduction in profits. As the shares slid, Chief Exec, Michael O'Leary, warned of even lower fares and subsequent margins in order to keep up its market share. He blamed not just the rise in energy costs, but the potentially damaging proposal by the EU to drop subsidies for regional airports, subsidies that underpin the entire Ryanair business model.

Needless to say, whatever Ryanair loses in fares it will make up by increased charges for baggage, overweight baggage, unevenly distributed baggage contents, early boarding, food, drink and unfashionable clothing. Actually the last one might not be true, but with Ryanair you never can tell. They seem to pride themselves on delivering a service that gives customers a philosophical lesson in the sheer arbitrariness with which they can apply the rules and fleece passengers of cash.

I flew Ryanair four times (I say "flew" rather than "have flown" because I do not intend to ever use their 'services 'again), and of those four flights, I had a profoundly negative experience on two occasions. They apply the principle of Lowest Common Denominator not just to their prices, but as an entire customer service philosophy, all the time asking the question: exactly how much bad service can we get away with? The answer is, of course, almost anything as long as they keep the fares low, as they understand customers, essentially, in terms of prostitution - we will suffer more or less any degradation as long as the price is right. And the lower the fare, the lower the service, but the more we love it, apparently.

I am intrigued by the point at which people realise that a service is something that is actually worth paying for. That no matter how low an airfare becomes, there is a point at which human dignity requires some self-respect.

I suppose I should end my boycott of Ryanair in order to enjoy an experience of the arbitrariness of life - random punishments and misfortune would remind me of the chaotic lack of purpose that characterises human life on earth, and that all complaints famously go unanswered would serve to remind me that there is no retribution after the event.

But I'll settle instead for the amusement of hearing Michael O'Leary call the European Union "communists" because they are considering stopping paying him subsidies via the obscure airports Ryanair uses. Maybe he should write them a letter of complaint?

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