O'Leary dismissed the risks of a global crisis, saying the danger was ‘a tragedy only for people living... in slums in Asia or Mexico'. He also suggested that the honeymooning Scottish couple who contracted the virus would quickly recover, saying ‘a couple of Strepsils would do the job'.
As usual he wins no points for tact. While the UN and WHO have done their bit to stoke this latest health panic, O'Leary dismissed it in typically blunt fashion, asking: ‘Are we going to die from swine flu? No. Are we in danger of SARS? No. Foot and mouth disease? No. Will it affect people flying short-haul flights around Europe this summer? Thankfully, no.'
It's hardly a huge surprise that O'Leary would stick his snout in. With the air industry linked to the spread of the disease, and people's rising fears potentially making them think twice about flying, companies like Ryanair could stand to take a significant hit. The last thing O'Leary needs on top of troublesome fuel bills and a global recession is rising hysteria, which could easily affect trade even if the actual damage turns out to be far less of a crisis than everyone's saying. But with many of his customers probably having genuine fears over the disease, which has been linked to 159 deaths so far in Mexico, he could have picked a less ham-fisted way of dismissing it.
Part of us can't help hold a little respect for O'Leary's determination to say what he thinks, and for once we actually have some sympathy for his basic point, given some of the more ludicrous scaremongering that has been flying around.
But what grates is the relentlessly insensitive and publicity-seeking way he makes his point. He knows what attracts attention, and this latest outburst is already drawing the kind of uproar that greeted his recent suggestion that Ryanair would start charging people to use the loos on its planes. Surely there's only so far you can push the belligerent approach. If customers start to feel that a company really doesn't respect them, they may soon become pig sick of it.
In today's bulletin:
Suck it up, Darling tells top-rate taxpayers
Wheels about to fall off at LDV
O'Leary weighs in to swine flu debate
'It's not the glass ceiling, it's the sticky floor,' says Rebuck
SMEs give big thumbs-down to Budget