A photo posted on Twitter by Ryanair during Michael O'Leary's Q&A shows the budget airline CEO dressed as a leprechaun.
Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's outspoken chief executive, has taken control of the airline's Twitter account to answer questions from travellers.
In what must be considered a brave move considering the no-frills airline's divisive reputation, and the barrage of criticism British Gas faced with its #askBG campaign last week, travellers were provided with a one-hour window to challenge the airline boss over issues such as poor customer service and extortionate fees.
Following a few early hiccups – he initially forgot to use the designated hashtag #grillMOL in his early replies – Mr O'Leary fielded dozens of questions for over an hour while apparently dressed as a leprechaun.
The questions ranged from the amusing – “Is it true that you intend to remove at least one engine from all your aircraft to save fuel?” - to the offensive - “Were you born an a---hole or has it progressed throughout your life?” – while many quizzed him on perennial issues such as charging passengers who forget to print their boarding passes, the possibility of a fee to use the on-board toilet, and plans to launch transatlantic flights.
Users gave Mr O'Leary credit for going on Twitter, and supplying what were candid answers, but many will likely be left disappointed by his failure to address a number of issues.
For example, questions about the “manipulative” travel insurance opt-outs that fliers must dodge when booking a flight and “unjustified” charges – such as its £2.50 ($4.20) per person EU Regulation 261 levy (introduced to cover compensation payments for delayed flights) – were ignored.
He did find time to offer the following responses:
Q: Do you want Boris Island to become a reality? Would you back his campaign?
A. No. Crazy plan. London needs 3 more runways, 1 each at Heathrow, Gatwick & Stansted.
Q. Do you overstate flight durations so you can claim a better early/on-time records?
A. No. All flight durations are set by flight times from previous season. We don't puff flight times
Q: Can you explain the justification for charging £40 to reprint a boarding card?
A: Cos we want u to print it off before arriving at airport. Wud u show up w'out passport?
Q: why do you not fly to Russia or Ukraine and any plans to do so? Russian market is huge
A: Cos can only fly there from Ireland as outside EU, and Irish market tiny #GrillMOL
Q: Do you have a message for the ejits in Granada who wouldn't cross your palm with dosh to keep flying to the great city?
Q: any chance of introducing #frequentflier benefits in near future?
A: Coming shortly to a favourite airline near you
Q: If you are serious about social media why not encourage us to use it for customer contact - not premium rate phone no's
A: Working on it. Customer service already replies online
Q: Will fares out of Dublin come down when the depature tax is abolished? What new routes out of Dublin are you planning this winter?
A: Yes, announcements coming
Q: Do your planes HAVE to play that Dukes of Hazard-inspired jingle whenever they land on time?”
A: Looking at varying the on time arrival music. Better always to hear the fanfare than arrive late
Q: How can you justify the cattle mart that is boarding a Ryanair flight in Budapest?
A: Budapest not our best preboarding area, but we working with airport to try to improve it. Watch this space.
He also backtracked on a previous statement that overweight fliers should be charged more (“Have always opposed charging fat people more, and am also against giving skinny discounts”), and said Ryanair had no plans to introduce allocated seating, as low-cost rival EasyJet recently has, and said mobile boarding passes were being developed.
The stunt was the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at improving Ryanair's reputation regarding customer service.
Last week it placed a “suggestion form” on its website, encouraging fliers to tell it what changes they want to see.
Mr O'Leary added a note of explanation. “Over the past 29 years Ryanair has grown from carrying 200,000 to over 81 million customers annually,” he says. “But we want to keep improving our services, which is where you can help me. Please send me your suggestions as to how Ryanair can further improve our industry leading customer service. All suggestions will be gratefully acknowledged by me. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.”
He signed off playfully as “Da Boss” – alongside a smiley face emoticon.
It has also recently hired a new marketing manager, made its app free to download, and announced plans to redesign its website. Those changes came after Mr O'Leary told shareholders it should scrap its “macho” image and eliminate things that “unnecessarily p--- people off”.
The airline is regularly criticised for being slow to respond to customer complaints and for forcing passengers to opt-out of various offers – for extras such as car hire and travel insurance – when booking a flight. A study by London's Telegraph in July found that around 20 clicks of a mouse are required to get to the payment screen when booking with Ryanair – more than any other major carrier.
It has also been denounced for charging passengers high fees for hold luggage and in-flight food and drink, and huge amounts – up to £70 per person – if they forget to print their own boarding pass or if their hand luggage is overweight.
Traditionally, Mr O'Leary has been notoriously dismissive of customers who complain about the airline. Last year he described a British woman who was charged €300 ($425) after she forgot to print out five boarding passes on a flight from Alicante to Bristol as an “idiot”.
His other notable quotes include: “People say the customer is always right, but you know what - they're not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so” and “You're not getting a refund so **** off. We don't want to hear your sob stories. What part of 'no refund' don't you understand?”
The Telegraph, London