That’s Some Quirky Marketing Strategy: CEO Calls His Customers ‘Idiots’

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Michael O’Leary, the CEO of the fee-happy European airline Ryanair, isn’t scared of a little controversy. In fact, he seems to actively welcome it, periodically making outrageous statements (“The best thing you can do with environmentalists is shoot them”) and announcing possible new money-makers for the airline such as in-flight porn and pay toilets. Well, O’Leary is in the news again, this time for referring to Ryanair passengers—the people who have made him a rich man—as “idiots.”

In his defense, O’Leary didn’t call all Ryanair passengers “idiots.” Just the passengers who forget their boarding passes, or who for whatever reason can’t get their boarding passes printed out before arriving at the airport. In exchange for such idiocy, O’Leary finds it perfectly reasonable for his airline to assess a financial penalty: For example, a family of five recently had to fork over around $380 to have their boarding passes printed at an airport in Spain.

The UK Telegraph reported the tale, in which Suzy McLeod and her family were charged €60 per person (about US$380 total) because they’d failed to print their boarding passes before heading to the airport in Alicante for a flight back to England. McLeod wrote of the experience on Facebook:

“I had previously checked in online but because I hadn’t printed out the boarding passes, Ryanair charged me €60 per person! Meaning I had to pay €300 for them to print out a piece of paper! Please ‘like’ if you think that’s unfair.

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More than half a million people “liked” what she posted. To which O’Leary, in his usual sensitive manner, replied:

“We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid,” he said. “She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you… She wrote to me last week asking for compensation and a gesture of goodwill. To which we have replied, politely but firmly, thank you Mrs McLeod but it was your ****-up.”

After describing the woman and anyone else who doesn’t print out boarding passes in advance as “idiots,” O’Leary later backtracked slightly, explaining to the Irish Independent, “I was not calling her stupid, but all those passengers are stupid who think we will change our policies or our fees.”

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O’Leary also admitted that he himself had been known to be stupid. Not for, you know, insulting the people who have made him a very wealthy man (i.e., Ryanair customers), but for once forgetting his passport when embarking on a trip.

Fee-heavy carriers like Spirit and Ryanair have proven to be the most profitable players in the airline business, and it would be stupid to think for a second that Ryanair would change its business model now. To these airlines, it doesn’t matter whether the fees are reasonable or not. Spirit recently introduced a $100 fee if a passenger wants to bring a carry-on bag aboard the flight and fails to pay for it in advance. The slips of paper that Ryanair had to print out for the McLeod family cost the airline maybe 5¢.

It’s understandable that neither Ryanair nor Spirit is willing to make exceptions for customers, even when there are extenuating circumstances. If it did so even for a few passengers, it would be expected to do the same for many others as well. Before you knew it, the revenues from fees wouldn’t be quite so enormous.

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It is equally understandable, though, that a traveler would never want to do business with a company that is known for charging astronomical fees at every turn—or one run by a guy who blatantly insults his customers.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

164 comments
nomarxistfarms
nomarxistfarms

Adam Smith and the other classical economists (such as Ricardo, etc.) were very concerned with eliminating what they called the "rentier" class, whom they felt took a cut from every transaction without providing any benefit. They collected an unearned income (rent). Smith was referring to the aristocrats of course. O'Leary seems the epitome of the new-rentier... nickle and diming his customers to death after they've already been locked into his carrier (Why not charge $100 to use the bathroom? After all, where else are they going to go at 30,000 feet?). This POS represents all that's wrong with capitalism these days. I know for one I'll do my best to correct "the market" by never EVER using either Spirit or Ryanair as long as I live.

smartgeema
smartgeema

I agree.  Except the 'capitalism' we have in the 21st century USA is nothing like the capitalism of the post-WWII era - up through the end of the Clinton era in 2000.  I know and remember well the differences.  I was the grand-daughter and the daughter of self-employed, self-made individuals - and the lessons I learned from them served me well as I became an entrepreneur myself, starting and succesfully selling, three businesses over a 20 year period.

The 'capitalist' system we have today is rigged against people like me, who could combine my knowledge, experience, expertise, highly developed skill sets, creativity, and hard work - and virtually no, or very little, capital - and start a small, one person, business and fairly quickly grow it into a dynamic company which employed many people and paid them well - and as long as attention was paid, common sense was applied, and taxes were paid, it was virtually impossible NOT to be profitable.

The corporatization of America and the transition of the American economy into one where the most profitable industry left in the USA today is the 'money' business - banking, investment companies, vc's, hedge funds, etc, changed our true free market capitalism into a .  And the explosion of "public-private partnerships" have ruined true capitalism for any entrepreneur who tries to enter new markets where the fix is already in for his/her product or service, because the city or county government has already "partnered" with another company providing the same service or product, and once the political imprimatur has been handed to a competitor, the playing field is simply no longer open and level.  Same goes for state governments who grant 'favored vendor' status to various entites, sole contracts to public utility providers, and exclusive territory contracts to other private businesses.  And then we have our US Congress with its fealty to special interests (in exchange for campaign funding which, in turn, almost guarantees a congressman's job security), that amounts today to something akin to "most favored nation" trade status, in the USA of the 1950's through the late 1990's.   

The capitalist system of Adam Smith is already dead in the United States, and it remains to be seen where the "connected capitalism" of today blows up on us and takes everyone down like falling dominoes  - or whether We the People finally get totally fed up with spending our money on services or products for which the consumer needs a lawyer to translate all the fine print conditions which accompany the purchase itself - and if anything goes wrong later with the product or service, the consumer cannot find anyone to take responsibility, to replace the defective product or to re-do the defective service without a year-long hassle, or most of the time, to even say "Thank you so much for your business.  Please come back and let us assist you again soon, and be sure to let us know right away if you have any problem."

No, true capitalism is long gone. When corporations spend more time and money figuring out all the obscure details they will attach as conditions for any customer to do business with them - (I call these the 'gotcha gimmicks') - as well as all the ways to successfully hide both themselves and any honest, uncensored, factual data about their products and services, as well as most of their corporate details, from customers who need and want help from them, then the system is rigged against the buyers 100%.  And when corporations are given legal imprimatur to buy off politicians openly, and to determine election outcomes underhandedly, why should any consumer ever develop loyalty to any brand or product which they have on offer, or trust anything they say in order to complete the transaction ?

Nobody can create something new - and bring it successfully to an open market today - without jumping through all kinds of hoops, affiliating oneself with people or groups one would never voluntarily associate with, and even the dollar cost of entry into the marketplace has become so high today in the US, it discourages most honest, independent, entrepreneurs from even contemplating a start-up company. 

TheMovingFinger
TheMovingFinger like.author.displayName 1 Like

Travellers have the option of voting with their feet and taking a different airline, not only cutting Mr O'Leary to size but also making him poorer in the process. If the conditions of travel are clear, why dont we follow those terms and, if we cant, take a different airline? I once toom Ryan in preference to BA because the nominal price if the ticket was far cheaper. After paying all the fees and ordering a cab at 3 a.m to catch a 6 a.m. Flight, BA was more expensive by only 10 or 12 pounds. And the BA schedule was jolly friendly too. Should I crib? I shall never take Ryan again. I also witnessed a ayoung man bring a huge cello onto a flight and being told he would have to pay a huge sum to get it on board and being told it wasnt a hand luggage in any case. What was he thinking? I was overweight by 2 kilos in one hand baggae and my three companions were underweight. I was made to redistribute so as to comply with individual handbagage weight limit. I was stupid to think I ould play "the aggregate" game. I knew the rules, and I had to comply.

katy curran casey
katy curran casey like.author.displayName 1 Like

Sadly, I had a recent experience dealing with this airline and was unable to produce a printed boarding pass prior to departure. They seem to prey on foreigners who have not been trained in advance that you will be penalized if you make an honest mistake! I am from the USA and learned the hard way.

Naive to the ways of this pathetic CEO named O'Leary, I was traveling from London (Stanstead) to Kerry, Ireland the morning after the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. There were no front desk staff at the dorm in London where I was staying that had access to print out the boarding pass. The next morning at the airport, I went straight to an Internet Cafe, only to find out that boarding passes can not be printed FOUR hours prior to flight time. Really, Mr. O'Leary?! C'mon...this is a disgusting scam. What a sour taste I had in my mouth handing over my bank card to the young woman who shook her head and apologized profusely for "stealing" my money." She even said "I do not even work for them --- we are all contractors."

If I had not told my 86 year-old monsignor uncle with severe health issues in Dingle, Ireland that I would be there that afternoon, I would have turned around and gone to an Olympic event. I HATED giving this company any more of my US dollars.I paid the equivalent of $100 USD to print out a boarding card for my flight nearly two hours in advance. How sad is that?

I boarded the flight only to fear that my one carry-on bag would be too large for storage for no cost. I was warned by another passenger that the airline is known to be nasty and charge for  "extra baggage." Only another form to extort money from naive passengers.

As I sat in my seat and grumbled, an Irishman turned around to try and cheer me up. He said, "C'mon, you know what they say about the guy running this airline, right?" I did not. "Well, there is a story about him in a bar in Dublin. He asked for a pint of Guiness. The bartender said that will be 55 Pence. O'Leary responded, "Only 55 Pence? That's a good deal! I'll take it." The bartender then replied, "And would you like a glass with that?"

Wow - that story says it all. I arrived safely and will NEVER EVER fly that airline again.

humphryg2000
humphryg2000

Flew Ryanair once - first and only time.  A $2 faire with $100 announced fees turned out to be a $400 flight.  Never again!!!

swift2010
swift2010

There have been recent reports Ryanair has in Spain been under investigation in not loading additional fuel on planes to cover emergencies /like diversions 

or allowing enough turn around time to allow for aircraft checks 

also when delays occur not stamping complaint forms to show receipt

and not giving passengers info on what is going on

Ryanair have to be careful of the resentment they are building up from passengers and regulators  

Tom Darga
Tom Darga

O'Leary is just another parasite running a fraud into the ground while looting it for everything he can steal.  

Gary Paquin
Gary Paquin

Regardless of the arguments pro or con, I would never fly on this guy's airline.  As a consumer, that's a choice that WE can make, thank you very much  Mr. O'Leary.   I probably wouldn't fly on 'Hitler' Airlines, regardless of the savings, either.

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

A foolish consistency may

be the hobgoblin of little minds, but a total absence of constancy has sure

created a tough situation for Mitt Romney. His own campaign, of course, first

used the Etch A Sketch metaphor to describe him—to all journalists'

delight. The unravelling of Romney as a clear-thinking person continues

with his latest effort to thread the needle once again on health care. He knows

that the individual pieces of health care reform are extraordinarily popular,

from pre-existing conditions being covered to kids’ ability to remain on their

parents' health plan through age 26. So Romney, hesitant to seem more

Scrooge-like than he already does, performed a quick pirouette. Instead of

supporting full repeal of the act—as he has in the past and as his running mate

currently does—he said he would keep certain provisions, such as the one

relating to pre-existing conditions. A sure sign of humanity, empathy, and

compassion!(There is a school of thought, parenthetically, that believes that

Chief Justice John Roberts may have been more sympathetic to the health-care

act because of his own pre-existing condition, a history of seizures.)But

Romney's position creates a huge problem for him: How does he propose to pay

for this expansion of benefits? The options are limited: Asking existing

customers to subsidize those with pre-existing conditions or having government

subsidize them are not answers Romney can give. I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

nealnayan
nealnayan

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All about pc

ZungDoo
ZungDoo like.author.displayName 1 Like

Idunno, I work for Best Buy and I would have to agree, most customers are idiots.

Anon-Right.tk

pohlin
pohlin

@ZungDoo I agree with you that there are many stupid customers. Although it would be nice if O'Leary can be more polite!

uncoveror
uncoveror

Anyone who keeps flying on that drunken Mick's planes now is an idiot.

Me_again4
Me_again4

Good to know.  I'll NEVER fly on this "idiot's"  airline.

formerlyjamesm
formerlyjamesm

He's right...you fly Ryanair, you're an idiot.  We know there are other airlines to fly and you chose us. Welcome aboard, suckers.

Trajan Saldana
Trajan Saldana

the final paragraph states the reality of it the situation with great eloquence. stop flying ryanair or stop whining

yakasha
yakasha

"The slips of paper that Ryanair had to print out for the McLeod family cost the airline maybe 5¢."

And how much did it cost to staff the counter to tell the customer they had to pay $60 per pass?

How much did it cost to staff the customer service center that replied to her email complaint?

Now, multiply that by the hundreds or thousands of customers that come in every day and carelessly forget their boarding passes, assuming the ticketing counter will happily print them out for free?

I still do not believe it costs Ryanair $60 to print each boarding pass even while including the staff amp; other costs related to it, but that amount does inspire *most* people to be very careful, placing their boarding pass on the top of the list of things to remember... along with their luggage.

In the end, the cost of flying on Ryanair is less than the other carriers as long as you follow the rules, plan, and don't mess up.

The guy's lack of public relations skills I'm quite used to.  I'm a techie.  Nerds don't have people skills either.  :)

commonsensical1
commonsensical1

Makes perfect sense to me ... He's the boss, plain and simple.  You don't like it, take your business elsewhere.  Or, whine your pathetic selves away all afternoon long on the message boards. 

Amanda Meehan
Amanda Meehan

I'm not surprised.  My husband and I were suppose to fly on Sept 11, 2001  from NYC to various parts of the UK.  Because all flights in the US were grounded and our nation under attack, we had to reschedule our trip.  We called RyanAir to reschedule our flights due to these horrific events and they said the flights were not refundable and since Ryan Air's  flights weren't interrupted they would not refund or rebook us, no special exceptions.  We called up AerLingus and was ready to pay full price for the same flights  we had  booked on RyanAir amp; we just mentioned our situation and AerLingus was so gracious they comp'ed us for our flights and they couldn't understand why RyanAir would not make an exception.  They are d-bags for sure!

Greg Mondale
Greg Mondale

O'Leary is absolutely correct.  Anybody who would buy a ticket from his airline is a complete and total idiot and deserves whatever scam fees they get hit with later.

Boater39
Boater39

In a way, he's right....  The people who are stupid are those who still fly with RyanAir after seeing how they view their customers....

wadejlong
wadejlong

Zuckerberg said the same thing and you made him like a god.  Humans love having kings and being slaves.

Andrew Michael Cecka
Andrew Michael Cecka

Same thing I tell my customers. If you can't do everything I need you to do to make it easier for me to run my business, then you're an idiot. 

Missed checking a box? Idiot. Got stuck in traffic? Idiot. Walking away from me as fast as you can to go to another provider? Well...you're not an idiot. Apparently you realize you get the same product with better service from many of my competitors.

Maybe I should stop giving advice to Mikey-O (that's what I call him).

bloggette
bloggette

I have to agree with him.  Anyone who would fly his airline and put up with the way they do business, just to save a few bucks, is an idiot.

Philip Livingston
Philip Livingston

He is absolutely right. Anyone who would use his service after reading this would indeed be an idiot.

Patrick Small
Patrick Small

Too bad Alicante doesn't have a pre-security internet cafe she could have printed them at. With enough time, I would have taxied to one, printed and came back. I'm guessing she's not the planner type though...but she has my sympathies on the fee because the cost of administration and printing a boarding pass doesn't warrant that fee. No sympathy for choosing to fly the toilet bowl of the skies though.       

tellthetruthnow2011
tellthetruthnow2011

You are wrong about people who show up last minute!!! They cost the airline time, money and fuel. They either show up and cause the check in line to be massive or they show up last minute at a gate with a 100 pound bag. What did they think the airline was going to do??? The airline has to now adjust weight , balance, and add more fuel because when someone brings even on bag the weight makes the difference of safe take off. This is common sense. If people could get their act together and be proactive they could avoid these charges but people are primarily lazy and love to blame anyone but themselves!!!

Harrymantooth
Harrymantooth

Inoperable this O'Leary doucher finally gets busted for pedophilia and ends up getting vigorously breach loaded in an Irish prison.

tellthetruthnow2011
tellthetruthnow2011

The difference between Spirit and Ryan Airlines is that Spirit is reasonable and has better benefits for passengers. They have some of the friendliest flight attendants in the sky and that makes all the difference in the world to me.

Harrymantooth
Harrymantooth

Fu** this O'Leary clown and his spud sucking, river dancing airline. I hope he finally gets busted for pedophilia and gets violently breach loaded in an Irish prison.

Harrymantooth
Harrymantooth

Fuc* O'Leary! And his spud suckin, river dancing airline. I hope this guy gets picked up for pedophilia and gets breach loaded in an Irish prison.

Top Scientist
Top Scientist

I have to agree with Mr. OLeary: anyone who does business with him is in fact an idiot.

KewlDawg
KewlDawg

People don't care.    If he charges them just a penny less, they will gladly give him their business.

KewlDawg
KewlDawg

People don't care.    If his charges $0.01 less, then people will flock to his planes.

Punk Monk
Punk Monk

Got it. Don't fly on Spirit or Ryanair, ever. You can print up your ticket at the counter at AA or at a kios at the airport. Thanks for the article and info!

Michael Collins
Michael Collins

Nothing is worth flying this guy's  tuna cans in the sky.

Jerry Russell
Jerry Russell

It's a cheap Greyhound bus in the air.  Follow the procedure, make sure you have complied with the rules, or pay the price for your neglect or stupidity.  They provide a service and expect you to do what's asked.  We fly discount airlines all the time: (Allegiant, Spirit, Frontier, Southwest, etc.) it's the cheapest way to get from point A to point B.  Otherwise, book a first-class ticket with another airline and they will kiss your a** for the extra $3000.   Sure, we all make mistakes, but if you make one, pay for it!  I've never used RyanAir, but if we ever go to Europe, I will certainly check their fares and probably use them.  Get over your attitude that "I'm someone Special", you're not!

AirDocsMD
AirDocsMD

A bit high fee for a boarding pass but I like this guy.  Wow, personal responsibility, what a concept!

Maureen Owen
Maureen Owen

Wonder if he had to pay his own exorbitant fees when he forgot HIS OWN ticket?

jiasdofasdj
jiasdofasdj

You remind me of some Republicans I hear talk about personal responsibility, while their daughters are single teenage mothers and they basically don't have a pot to p*ss in themselves. It doesn't matter that Democrats are better educated, live better, and have fewer ridiculous problems like teenage parents, they must have personal responsibility problems, and if they do things that are representative of a lack of personal responsibility, it's ok to fine them tenfold.

jiasdofasdj
jiasdofasdj

Some of us actually deliberately rely on the airline to print our boarding passes at the airport, and don't want to be inconvenienced for no reason. Further, some of us even think paper boarding passes that are issued at check-in and re-collected at the gate are a waste of paper.

jeff cox
jeff cox

 You must love Chris Christie then.  Another legend in his own mind.

fasttrident
fasttrident

I have flown Ryanair a number of times. Frankly, the only and i mean only reason one flies them is the low cost. Never ming the second tier landing rights..for the benefit of saving some money, you too can experience quite possibly the worst seats on a first world carrier, constant lowbrow peddling of trinkets and lotto tickets during the flight, and in general an atmosphere akin to a flying greyhound bus.  thus, you get what you pay for. sometimes its worth it, sometimes its not.

C2222
C2222

Personally, I think Ryanair's customers ARE idiots.  Why pay a slimeball like that to be abused?  Take your business elsewhere and let him go bankrupt.  As long as he can keep making money by being a jerk, he'll keep doing it.

PTByrd
PTByrd

Myself and business colleagues WERE very frequent cutomers of Ryanair -- not anymore.

Lawrence J. Winkler
Lawrence J. Winkler

He's probably right in calling his customers stupid. Continuing to use his airline is certainly a good measure.