Ryanair: Has Sky King Michael O'Leary really gone down on bended knee?

The low-cost carrier’s chief has written to pilots offering more cash and telling them he loves them. Will that be enough to keep them on board?

Ryanair, and Michael O’Leary, aren’t in the habit of making these sort of statements. Most of the time they respond to critics with a raised middle finger, because most of the time they can
Ryanair, and Michael O’Leary, aren’t in the habit of making these sort of statements. Most of the time they respond to critics with a raised middle finger, because most of the time they can

What should Ryanair pilots do now that Sky King Michael O’Leary has apparently gone down on bended knee before them?

The Irish Independent has obtained an impassioned letter he has written to them in the wake of some decidedly importune comments made by the infamously brash CEO at the company AGM, with the airline under fire over the cancellation of thousands of flights.

Trust Mr O’Leary to add fuel to that inferno with his accusation that some pilots were being “precious about themselves” and “full of their own self-importance”. Not to mention jabs at the amount of hours they have to work.

With his plea to the more than 4,000 pilots who fly for Ryanair to stick around, rather than bolting for rival Norwegian (as many have) or other employers, his tune has changed.

Those comments? “Misreported” (it’s the fault of those rotters in the meeja). Misconstrued too, because of course they weren’t aimed at lovely Ryanair people. No, they were “specifically directed at pilots of competitor airlines and their local unions who take every opportunity to criticise and denigrate Ryanair”. (I didn’t mean you lot. We love you. Pease stay!)

“I have the utmost respect, and admiration for Ryanair’s pilot team,” said Mr O’Leary. (See? We really do love you. Pretty please stay!)

And there’s some sugar on top: the offer of “significant changes” to the rostering blamed for the cancellation scandal, plus the promise of better career development, and, crucially, improved pay and contracts.

Of course this is Michael O’Leary. So, while he might appear to be trying to change the narrative, there’s a wink to the investors who have, up until now, had his back. That wink says don’t you worry, we aren’t really changing.

Hence the sideswipes at unions (we’re not having them here, no siree) plus a suggestion that pilots look at the financial travails of the competition (eg Monarch, Alitalia, even Norwegian) and particularly “Brexit-threatened airlines”. (Watch out if you join them. Ryanair might not be a cuddly bunny. But look at the alternatives. Don’t you feel more secure here?)

Time for the mutinous pilots to book the gains they’ve made and pipe down?

If I were in their shoes I would at this point ask myself whether leopards ever really change their spots.

The fact that the letter has been written should also send a message. They have clout. For now.

Ryanair, and Michael O’Leary, aren’t in the habit of making these sort of statements. Most of the time they respond to critics with a raised middle finger, because most of the time they can. The company has repeatedly found itself immersed in scandal, but it has ultimately always been able to face down its critics. While passengers might grouse, they carry on flying with it, even though there are alternatives available. And they will probably still do so after the latest furore has died down.

The company is clearly banking that a sop – some concessions that stop well short of allowing the unionisation that pilots at, say, rival easyJet enjoy – will do the same with the people who fly them.

Ryanair pilots would be unwise to be so easily bought off. They’re unlikely to get a second opportunity like this.

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