Michael O’Leary is not everybody’s cup of Irish tea. But the Ryanair boss would be right to enjoy a celebratory cuppa aboard one of his flights (that’ll be €2, fella) as his airline returns to profitability in a summer marked by chaotic scenes across Europe at his rivals’ check-in desks.
The story of how is a relatively simple one. In short, Ryanair used a strong balance sheet ahead of the pandemic to keep staff on albeit at mutually agreed – or at least mostly mutually agreed – lower rates. The firm kept training staff, too. Elsewhere in the industry, faced with an absurd lack of sector-specific help, airports, air traffic control providers and other airlines instead cut staff to the bone.
Lo and behold, as the aviation industry finds high altitude once again, Ryanair have been forced to cancel or delay fewer flights and, broadly, get people to the places they paid to go to on time (or at least, Ryanair time). This is some achievement and it deserves credit.
O’Leary’s no nonsense persona (even yesterday he couldn’t resist a pop at “idiot Belgian unions”) distracts at times from the lean, mean, efficient flying machine he has built.
It is a shame others in the industry haven’t cracked the same trick. Many of the airlines which cut staff during the pandemic had in truth already been trying to bring costs into line with the models used by Ryanair and Easyjet, but did it – broadly – badly. There is a compelling argument that competing on price was never a good idea, because if you do that you’re left with only one option: get cheaper. Legacy carriers simply couldn’t do so, and O’Leary won every price war that came his way.
Nobody particularly enjoys a Ryanair flight, but this summer at least you can mostly be sure it’ll be there when you arrive at the airport.
Though the rest of the industry has not covered itself in glory, O’Leary et al can be content with a summer’s job well done.