Four days after the head of British Gas received a torrent of abuse on Twitter as he answered questions about the company’s latest price rise, so Europe’s biggest budget airline put up its chief executive to field questions today – apparently without briefing him.
Ryanair’s first venture into that world of the live Q&A was a shambles from the start. The idea was that passengers could post questions to the airline’s boss, Michael O’Leary, using the hashtag “#GrillMOL”. But the combative CEO seemed unaware that his inappropriate response to one of the first questioners – a woman – would be seen by everyone.
His comment (“Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL”) was rapidly re-tweeted, with responses such as “@Ryanair how is it appropriate for an airline CEO to be a sexist pig?”, and: “People who fly Ryanair: do you also think this is an acceptable thing to tweet at a woman?”
Mr O’Leary eventually responded: “Just found out what hashtags are. Learning on da job! Always compliment ladies pics”.
Even before the “Twitter chat” got under way – 50 minutes early, due to a scheduling error – it was clear that many disgruntled travellers saw it as an opportunity to take revenge on Europe’s biggest low-cost airline.
“What type of people do you enjoy mistreating most? I’m guessing elderly and disabled?” was one of the earliest tweets, quickly followed by: “Were you born an arsehole or has it progressed throughout your life?” and: “Is it company policy for your staff to be rude and unhelpful as possible?”
Other popular topics included baggage charges, the distance from Ryanair’s terminals to cities it says it flies to and the perceived lack of comfort in its spartan cabins.
Among the many tweets to go unanswered were some about tragic personal circumstances. “Due to fly to Riga on Saturday but can’t go as my mum in law is losing her cancer battle. 388 quid to re-book seems unfair,” read one. “Why no response for a refund request (sent reg. post) in over a month from seriously ill girl with special needs? @Ryanair #scum” went another.
When Mr O’Leary entered into a discussion, it did not always end amicably. One questioner asked: “Is there any truth in the rumour that you plan to charge passengers for each inhalation they make after take off?” The chief executive responded instantly with: “Hi Beth, great idea. Have a team workin’ on it as we breathe!” The riposte read: “I thought you might like that one you money-grabbing bastards”.
One Ryanair employee who dared to join the conversation by tweeting, “So my boss is on Twitter right now,” received the immediate response: “Get back to work you slacker or you’re fired.”
Andy Gilderdale mocked the airline’s policy of using “secondary” airports. “Tried to send you a question on Twitter but it ended up on Facebook instead. Still, by your standards that’s close enough.”
Among the mud-slinging, Ryanair passengers learned a few things about the airline’s plans. It will be introducing smartphone-enabled check-in by the summer, which should reduce the number of passengers obliged to pay £70 for failing to arrive at the airline without one printed out. And there are no plans to introduce assigned seating, as easyJet has recently done.
By the end of the scheduled hour, Mr O’Leary appeared to be enjoying the banter. Stuart Robinson asked: “Is it true that one in four Ryanair flights is fueled by leprechaun urine?” It prompted the immediate response: “Dat’s an outrageous slur. All [Ryanair] flights are fuelled with Lep wee and my bulls**t!”
“What do you think has been Ryanair’s biggest failure and biggest achievement”, asked Adam Ringland. “Biggest achievement, bringing low fares to Europe and still lowering ‘em. Biggest failure, hiring me!” O’Leary replied.
And as if to demonstrate that the criticism had fallen on deaf ears, the Ryanair feed appeared to ignore the question: “Will you be looking for a new social media manager tomorrow?” only to later ask for views on a future Twitter chat.
Plane speaking: Top tweets
@digital_times Don’t you just hate moaners and proles? #GrillMOL What plans have you to make @Ryanair even more uncomfortable for people?
@Ben_Yates I’ve sent one #GrillMOL tweet to @Ryanair and already an invoice for £18.50. Or £18.25 if I take their credit card.
@TripeUK How far is Ryanair Frankfurt to Frankfurt to the nearest 100 miles? #GrillMOL
@AdamParsons So #GrillMOL is yet to take off. Now running more than ten minutes late. @Ryanair’s punctuality under scrutiny again
@jamesrquinn Worth pointing out #GrillMOL wasn’t 10 mins late – it was 1 hour early – advertised to be 4-5pm GMT! Ryanair can’t get anything right
@andymcgeady Hi @Ryanair. How much will Michael charge per reply? And are you charging me to send this tweet? #GrillMOL
@andrewtheplane #GrillMOL Why do you abandon passengers at airports and tell them to leave when flights are cancelled?
@Ball00n_knot Are you tempted to make rude unhelpful replies, like your staff? #GrillMOL @Ryanair
@realhatsmatter#GrillMOL Do you have a valid export license for your cattle business?