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airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.


If it weren’t September I’d think the recent news about Ryanair’s CEO calling passengers “idiots” was an April Fool’s joke. I mean, the CEO of a company who relies on its customers for business wouldn’t really call them idiots, would he?

But now that my initial shock has passed, I’m actually more surprised that I was surprised this happened. Despite the fact that business would dry up if passengers decided to revolt, Ryanair and its low-cost compatriot in the U.S., Spirit Airlines, are the two most customer-unfriendly airlines.

In his most recent “up yours” moment, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called passengers who do not print out their boarding passes ahead of time “stupid” and “idiots,” the Huffington Post reported.

According to the article, O’Leary’s comments were prompted by a customer who complained about having to pay 300 euros to print out five boarding passes before flying from Alicante, Spain to Bristol, England. The whopping 60 euro charge for getting a boarding pass printed at the airport was upped from 40 euros in 2011 after a Spanish court found the fee to be illegal. The company vowed to fight the ruling and increased it rather than get rid of it.

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When the angry customer took to Facebook to share her frustration, O’Leary responded in his usual customer-friendly (NOT!) manner:

“We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid. She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you.”

Per The Independent, as quoted by the Huffington Post, O’Leary said that virtually all passengers print their boarding passes in advance, so to the few who don’t, he says “bugger off.”

O’Leary is not alone in his anti-customer spirit. Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ben Baldanza is also known for brushing aside customer complaints.

In an interview with FoxNews.com, Baldanza made it clear he does not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy, saying that customer complaint rates are “an irrelevant statistic.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, out of 100,000 passengers last January, Spirit received 8.27 complaints, by far the worst record in the industry.

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But he told FoxNews.com you have to look at the statistics the other way around. “If you ran a restaurant, and out of every 100,000 customers, 8 of them said they didn’t like your menu, would you change your restaurant?” he asked. “Why don’t we interpret that 99.92 of all customers have no complaints? Because that is what it says.”

He most famously revealed his feelings about his customers in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer complaint that had been forwarded to him. In doing so he sent his reply not only to his employees but to the original customer as well. He wrote, “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”

Call me naïve, but I still believe the airlines are here to serve my needs and treat me accordingly. If that means I have to pay an extra penny or an extra $100 to go with an airline that still treats me like a valued customer, so be it.

Maybe folks that go with the low-cost carriers and expect to be treated well are idiots. What do you think?

– written by Dori Saltzman

17 Responses to “Ryanair CEO Calls Some Passengers Idiots; Maybe He’s Right”

  1. Jim Walsh says:

    Dori-You nailed it. As someone who travels often for a living – I am shocked at Spirit Airlines lack of concern for their customers. The rush of a good deal is quickly lost when you can’t board your flight because you are 120 seconds late checking in and that’s because their kisok was trying to double collect on the most ridiculous bag fee system EVER! Never EVER Again!

  2. Tim says:

    As they say “You get what you pay for”.

  3. Kathy says:

    Shame on them for saying out loud what other airline CEO’s only say in private. By the way travelers are treated, we can only assume they all feel this way.

  4. Kent says:

    Sorry, I have to agree with the CEO….The reason why these airlines are so successful is that they keep the fares LOW. Low meaning – lets keep everything as streamlined as possible. If someone forgot their boarding pass and holds up the line at the gate, why should I (as another traveler) wait for them when I did my due diligence earlier? That person did not follow the directions. Others would call them stupid too. That customer could have saved a bunch of money if they actually read the website correctly. Ryanair’s website CLEARLY puts a statement that you should printout your boarding passes to AVOID fees – in multiple places I might add.
    I bet you that this is the type of customer who brings 4 suitcases as carry on and complaining when the airline wants to charge you for extra baggage. stupid……

    If I wanted more services, I can always bring them to the big airlines and pay more – and usually $100+. Why didn’t that passenger use those airlines? I personally like to be catered to – so I’ll pay more to do so. It’s also the same as going to a gas station. I’m going to pump my own gas and don’t want to pay for full service.

    Ryanair (and Spirit) are there to bring you from A to B. If you come prepared, you will be treated well and they’ll get you where you want to go (for the most part) – nothing more, nothing less.

    Stupid as stupid does

  5. Steve says:

    RyanAir, hmmm. Isn’t that the airline with the charge to use the toilet?

  6. Chuck says:

    I’ve been reading about the compensation that passengers on the Allure of the Seas got for a delayed departure and changes in the scheduled ports of call.

    -$650 of on-board credit per cabin
    -$150 credit per night, per cabin for extra hotel stays in Ft. Lauderdale
    -$100 credit per person, per day, for food while staying in Ft. Lauderdale
    -a voucher for 10% off a future cruise

    If a passenger rescheduled his flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Royal Caribbean will pay for the change fee and extra fare.

    So, if Royal Caribbean can do that much, because of a hurricane (an act of God that normally would require no compensation), the the airlines could certainly be more customer friendly.

  7. I won’t call the passengers idiots, but… you get what you pay for. I flew Ryanair once in 1999, and I swore then “never again” and I haven’t.

  8. Don says:

    I agree with most of what you wrote. However, sometimes its just being nice to cut cut a customer some slack.

  9. Ed says:

    I would not fly either Ryanair or Spirit because I am willing to pay extra for the extra convenience. Some airlines do have good customer service and still do not over-charge for things: Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, even Delta and United are customer friendly if I am polite and friendly myself. I don’t complain if I screw up and have to pay extra for something like changing a ticket or other mental errors. Cathay Pacific recently gave me bad information which was going to cost me a luggage charge in the U.S. They responded by upgrading me to Business Class. When I did check in for my domestic leg a day later Alaska waived the baggage fee. At no point did I angrily dispute that the airlines involved were doing what they were legally entitled to do, yet the representatives made adjustments to keep me a happy customer even though I am not a frequent flyer anymore though I am an experienced traveler. Yes, I sometimes miss the good old days of regulated airline pricing when service was the differentiator from one airline to another, but as someone above said. You get what you pay for.

  10. vagabondginger says:

    Customer service is still customer service – no matter what! In this age of social networks it seems like everyone thinks it’s ok to be rude and say whatever! Not true! Everyone deserves respect.

  11. Del says:

    Well, I never complained to the USDT, but I will add my voice to the 8.27. Spirit Airlines is HORRIBLE!!! I flew them solely due to scheduled time, not fare….as a matter of fact their base fare was a few dollars more than United at the time. We thought we were ok just bringing carry ons. WRONG! 40 dollars per carry on each way (160 dollars later)we ended up paying approximately 60% more for our trip than we would have had we flown a ‘non-budget’ airline (and we would have even gotten a soda for ‘free’!). I hope people see what these service providers feel about their customers and just boycott them completely. I know that nobody in my family or circle of friends or even facebook friends, will ever fly Spirit. I spouted off to everyone I know….how many people fly with NO baggage?!?! (One way around it, I was told, is to bring a medium backpack). Add the fees and Spirit is at best, competitively priced with the ‘regular’ airlines, and more likely, at worst, more expensive in the long run. Never again!!!

  12. Charles M. says:

    Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary makes the nasty money-grubbing goblins at Gringots look like Mother Theresa. He must be a changeling left by the Daoine Sidhe soon after the birth of a human child. May he be a half hour in Heaven before the Devil finds out he’s dead and comes to pick him up.

  13. Norm Waite says:

    Now I feel vindicated in my belief that cruising(bringing your hotel with you) is the only way to vacation,and that flying is a waste of money and time,unless your in a hurry to be rid of the money you had to earn.

  14. Renee Bamba says:

    Ryanair is just the subway in the sky. The point is to get there and obviously the cheapest, quickest way. The destination is what is important. You can take the subway, taxi or limo in New York. Which is quickest? You wouldn’t call the transportation union, and if you did would you expect and answer? The big guy there would probably be smart enough to keep his mouth shut. Again you get what you pay for. And I would use Ryanair and take the savings for an incredible dinner anywhere in Europe!

  15. Pamela says:

    How do these airlines deal with the disabled and aged who may not have or know how to operate a computer? I am disabled and cannot walk far. A large airline wants to charge me an extra $30.00 for a seat assignment saying they no longer assign seats in the economy section until you arrive at the airport. First come first served.
    I guess they do not want me as a customer in the future. Providing fewer services which require fewer staff keeps the prices down but does not allow someone in my position to use their airline.

  16. Deborah Sampson says:

    Having heard about these CEOs ranting and raving, I have never even considered them in my travel plans. I figure if the CEO has that attitude about the people who fly his airlines, there will be other issues. I reward customer service with continuing purchases and I punish poor service by withdrawing my consideration. If everyone did that, CEOs would have an incentive to provide good customer service and flying would be a better experience. The same is true of any industry.

  17. Joe says:

    Kent you are completely wrong. These are not LOW LOW airfare discount airlines. By the time you pay for your ticket and all the other fees you end up paying what you would at any other airline and would be treated way better. I flew with these jokers once and NEVER again. In fact I posted a scathing review no swear words and they informed me they were removing it. I will gladly pay more upfront than deal with a company that treats people like this. Once burned by a company they will never get my money again. My woman will testify to my resolve on this. There are a few companies I can think of that wont ever see a dollar from me again, SPIT airlines as I can them is one.
    Joe

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