Taking the Michael

"Don't ask the price, it's a penny", as they used to say at Marks and Spencer, home of the now defunct St Michael brand. But it is that other not so saintly Michael of the airline industry, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary, who is causing business travellers and holiday-makers to ask very carefully exactly what price he really is charging for a ticket.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

You may have missed this one over the Bank Holiday lull, so here it is: Ryanair will, from September 20th onwards, charge all passengers £2 a flight simply for checking in at an airport terminal desk. A family of four might now have to pay an extra £16 on top of the price they may have been quoted for a return trip.

You can avoid these charges, Ryanair says, by checking in online and by carrying only one item of hand luggage with you. All right possibly for members of stag parties heading to Tallinn armed solely with a pack of three prophylactics and an unquenchable thirst. But for most of us it is simply not a realistic option.

O'Leary is, as usual, taking the piss. He doesn't care what whingeing journalists think. He doesn't care what his passengers think. He cares mainly about costs and profits, and sees no shortage of cheapskate customers lining up to pay for the "privilege" of flying on one of his aeroplanes.

But Honest Mike should have a care. Cheap flights are beginning to look more and more unfashionable these days, in the context of all of our environmental concerns. They may yet get hit by even tougher taxes. And then when you add up all the additional costs of a "cheap" flight - taxis to and from far-flung airports at ungodly hours, food and drink, and baggage charges - these flights really don't look as cheap as all that.

Open contempt for your customers is a bold and innovative strategy, but it could surely get taken too far. Ryanair may well be in for a period of extended and rather nasty turbulence.

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