Simon Kelner: Isn't there something to be said for telling it like it is?

Kelner's view


I always take the letters column of this newspaper seriously as a repository of the considered thoughts of our readers, who choose not a hastily penned tweet or an ill-considered internet posting but take the trouble to formulate an idea, and construct a short piece of prose in the hope of getting a message across. So I was interested when two of yesterday's correspondents came to the selfsame conclusion: that Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary's intemperate outburst about a passenger's complaint had somehow let down the Irish nation.

"The people of that fine country deserve better," said one i reader, while another was disappointed about "the damage which his arrogant attitude may do to the reputation of the people of Ireland".

I bow to no one in my admiration for the Irish, who are the warmest, most generous and friendliest people I have met. I also have met Michael O'Leary, but only to shake his hand before he delivered a hugely entertaining speech of breathtaking honesty, laced with equal amounts of humour and hubris.

My conclusion is the opposite of our letter-writers': Mr O'Leary embodies qualities that reflect well on modern Ireland: a swashbuckling entrepreneur who has created jobs and wealth (a fair chunk of it for himself, it's true) and who tells it how it is.

We are not used to successful businessmen – or politicians, or indeed almost anyone in public life – using direct, authentic language to say what they mean. Mr O'Leary's comments are as "no-frills" as his airline, and he makes no secret of the contract he has with his passengers: he'll give you extremely low fares and will get you – give or take a short bus ride – where you want to go, but don't expect anything else. He's upfront about his extra charges, and while some do seem preposterous, there are always other airlines to choose.

Yesterday, Ryanair's website was advertising trips from Bristol to Dublin for £22 and Liverpool to Oslo for £18. Of course, there are the extras to consider, and if you want to use the loo, you may find the price shoots up, but we live in an extraordinary age, where it costs less to fly abroad than to buy a seven-day travel pass for the central zone of the London underground. And then we want to moan about it!

A Ryanair passenger, Suzy McLeod, complained she was charged an extra £236 for failing to observe the rule that boarding passes should be printed out in advance. In characteristically blunt terms, Mr O'Leary responded to an internet campaign in support of her, saying that it was her own stupid fault, and that anyone who has the same complaint can "bugger off".

I'm with Mr O'Leary on this one. I object to his cavalier statements on the environmental degradation caused by air travel, and I think he takes the braggadocio a bit far, but, surely, everyone who books a Ryanair flight knows exactly what they're getting. Check the small print, get your boarding pass, and shut up. Have a good weekend, wherever you're going.


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