Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, the European airline with bargain-basement ticket prices and service to match, took to Twitter today to answer his customers and critics. In the process, he congratulated himself, flirted and even managed to give some genuine answers to customer service questions.
He also broke some news of interest to passengers — namely, that Ryanair’s unappealing website is in the midst of a major redesign, and that the air carrier is planning to introduce mobile boarding passes.
O’Leary is famously outspoken. In the book Plane Speaking: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael O’Leary (Aurum Press, 2010), the CEO says, “Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s arse about my personal dignity.”
He also makes injudicious remarks about competitors, supplier, consultants and even customers. “People say the customer is always right, but you know what — they’re not,” he says in the book. “Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so.”
All this “plain speaking” makes Ryanair an anomaly. In an age when blogs will seize on any scandal, however small, and inflate it out of all proportion, an age of punitive Twitter backlashes and corporate boycotts organized around hashtags, most companies do their utmost to put their best foot forward and tread lightly.
Not Ryanair. The discount airline joined Twitter only last month, and it lost no time in taking swipes at its critics. But today O’Leary personally joined the fray. Promoted with the hashtag #GrillMOL, the one-hour Twitter live chat saw the top executive fielding questions that ranged from the highly technical (“Will Ryanair install Scimitar Blended Winglets on new Boeing 737 deliveries and retrofit fleet?”) to the rather silly (“When are you considering charging fat people more?”).
As the live chat kicked off, Matt Owen, whose Twitter bio identifies him as head of social at research firm Econsultancy, tweeted that he was “settling back for an afternoon of PR stunt excellence/arrogance and shouting courtesy of #GrillMOL.”
“Who, from moi?” O’Leary protested. “Humility, courtesy, service. My middle names!”
Learning of the live chat, Claire Phipps, an editor at the Guardian, a liberal British media organization which O’Leary seems to revel in mocking, simply said, “Uh-oh.”
Phipps’s reaction may have been a foregone conclusion, considering that O’Leary has publicly praised former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and advocates stealing hotel pens to keep costs down. As he says in Plane Speaking, “The meek may inherit the earth, but they will not have it for long