Ryanair comes in for a lot of stick these days. Like the Mexican game of piñata, that game where a papier-maché puppet is filled with treasures and then everyone takes it in turn to beat it with clubs until it breaks and all the treasures come tumbling out.
I have just spent the weekend staying with old friends in Carcassonne in the South of France. They moved there about twenty years ago. When they arrived there it was a poor out of the way little town. Then Ryanair opened a flight route to the town. Tourists and their money flowed in. Unemployment fell like a stone. New businesses opened. Now the town is thriving and it is all thanks to Ryanair.
This story plays out all over Europe. Michael O’Leary is demonised in Ireland even as everyone says they like the way he talks, the things he says about the failures of Irish governance, the ideas he has for the Irish economy. He was out front when the infamous Celtic Tiger was stumbling to its end, citing the causes and the mistakes made by the then government, and we all applauded him.
I’ve been coming to Kerry in South West Ireland for more than thirty years. Back in the 1980s it cost £300 return to fly to Dublin and then drive or take a train and more if you came all the way by car and ferry (those are still much more expensive ways to come here). Now, flying with Ryanair, it can cost as little as £30 (or less if you get one of the top advance bargain seats). Ryanair has opened Europe to travellers of every economic group. Small towns and out of the way destinations have become popular and rich. Why don’t we praise Ryanair as one of the great success stories of Irish business?
Well, one reason is that strange Irish (and British) antipathy to successful people and businesses. We want to see them fail; we excoriate their success; we want to take their wealth away. And for why? To bring them down to our level? To stop the flow of wealth they bring to the nation? It is perverse. We should be proud of Ryanair, as much as we all flock to take its bargain flights. Sure, the seats are too close together if you’re over 5 foot 8; and you have to pay for snacks and drinks, but so what? The flights are all less than two hours long. How hard can it be to spend that time slightly cramped and bring your own sandwiches? The staff are always charming, the flights are almost always on time, the planes are well maintained, the safety record is all but perfect (I can think of just one bad landing, no-one was hurt).
It’s one of the great developments of the last twenty years: genuinely affordable travel for all. I use Ryanair all the time. I would recommend it to you, but I suspect you’ve already used it, whatever you might want to say about the experience.