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Could Scent-And-Scratchcard Row Bring Ryanair Down?

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Airline cabin crew who don’t sell enough perfume to passengers could get sacked.

This is the latest from Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair – the man who seems to court controversy with offence and outrage, eclipsed by very low fares.

Another row , and it’s no secret that the company is in trouble:  I suppose you might say they have become over-extended with poor planning and lack of resource leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights from their winter schedule (and “Christmas is cancelled” headlines), abandoned business plans (buying Italian carrier Alitalia will have to wait) and angry shareholders.

Is this the final nail in his commercial coffin?  The Boycott Ryanair campaign will surely get a boost from this.  And at some point surely the authorities will simply ban him?

The “boycott or ban” response is understandable, but neither is a solution. Here’s why.

Boycotts depend on people being so fed up, or a brand being so toxic, that consumers make an active choice to avoid it.  Think Cape fruit from apartheid South Africa.  Think “The Sun” on Merseyside after Hillsborough.  Think jewellers “Ratners” after their chief exec said their products were ”crap”.

I boycott Ryanair.  The only experience I have of flying with them was horrid. But they fly from an airport that I don’t use to places I don’t need to go at times of day I’m doing other things (like sleeping). It’s an easy ask.

Many are not in that position. Properties overseas, businesses developed because of the airlink O’Leary’s outfit provides, a desperate need for a break that is only affordable because of the knock-down fares.  A boycott is harder to operate then.

And as others have observed, our addiction to too-good-to-be-true prices usually trumps all else.  It’s not just aviation. The race to the bottom on prices is everywhere – from regulated utilities to high streets. We are not in boycott territory with Ryanair.

So they should ban Michael O’Leary instead!

Nice idea.  There are various “fit-and-proper” tests associated with running  an airline, and self-evidently he and his company are above the thresh-hold.  One person’s opinion is another’s anathema.  What is innovation to some is recklessness to others. Passion can be viewed as intimidation, determination as pig-headiness and so on.  Just because you don’t like the way someone does business doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be in that business. (So long, of course, as it is legal).

And in any event, who is the “they”?  The Government?  The CAA?  Why is it someone else’s responsibility and not ours?  If we want a debate about corporate culture, or airline regulation – fine, let’s have one: but that is for a different, separate place.

And this notion of personal responsibility takes us round full circle.  The people most affected by all this are the cabin crew themselves. You know things are bad when you turn on your own staff, as O’Leary is finding out with his pilots.  The scent-and-stratchcards row may speed progress down the same road, as employees get organised, start working collectively, and standing up to bad bosses with mad ideas. Joining a union, as is their legal right.

Maybe this time Mr O’Leary really is heading for a bumpy landing.  Because the role of cabin crew has a particular safety-led definition, Even Ryanair’s own literature talks about them being primarily there for the safety of the aircraft and passengers. He should be feeling a chill now.  Safety issues quite rightly weigh heavily on regulatory minds.  You might not be able to, or want to, ban O’Leary form running his company.  But airlines can be – and have been – banned from flying , because the CAA views them as unsafe.

It’s a thought – but we are some way from that point though.  Because it is not Ryanair itself that is the source for this latest debacle.  No – that has come from the recruitment firms they use for cabin crew.  The airline, quoted in Rob Davies’s original piece on this, is brusque to the point of alarming.  A kind of “nothing to see here, move along” approach.  But as the “end user”, the client, Mr O’Leary must surely take as much responsibility for his own supply chain as the safety on his aeroplanes.  I hope he does. I’m not holding my breath.

In the UK, Unite represents many airline cabin crew. BALPA is the union for pilots



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