Speaking to the Press about growth plans in Denmark and the new Winter Schedule in Copenhagen on Tuesday, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary expressed gratitude to both the Danish Labor unions and the Danish press for making more Danes aware of Ryanair’s services.
As one has come to expect, Michael O’Leary was direct and unapologetic, but he was also patient with questions and showed off his good humor and new “friendlier” persona.
“Sometimes—you’ve got to understand—bad publicity sells more seats than good publicity does.”–Michael O’Leary, Ryanair.
“The best thing that could have happened to us here in Denmark last year was the unions rabbiting on about the Danish model and all the rest of it. Everybody knew about Ryanair. We may well agree our brand and our brand and our reputation is not very positive up here in Denmark, yet our load factor is 90% and everybody’s flying with us,” O’Leary said.
“You know, have we won or did we lose? Frankly, we don’t care so long as our planes are full.” — Michael O’Leary, Ryanair
On O’Leary’s published agenda was the announcement of more routes and added flights in Copenhagen for the winter schedule, and the launch of a new route from Billund to Budapest as well as an updated winter schedule for Billund.
“We’re adding more routes and we account for 70% of the growth in Kastrup,” O’Leary added.
In all, Ryanair serves 15 routes from Copenhagen, including 4x daily service to London Stansted. Flight frequencies to Edinburgh will increase to 4x weekly service and to Malaga will increase to 5x weekly. Ryanair reports that it is carrying 2.5 million passengers a year to and from Denmark.
In Billund, O’Leary acknowledged, there was a decrease of passenger numbers due to changed flight schedules after the closure of the base.
“In Billund we have obviously less growth, in fact we have no growth at all because of the closure of the base,” he said. “Nevertheless we remain committed to Billund, but we will operate three routes during the winter. One new route which will be a twice weekly service to Budapest, which we’ll add to the daily service we’re operating to London, Stansted, and Malaga. We would hope that Billund would deliver between 450K and 500K [passengers] at Billund which would be significant decline from the 750K-800K passengers we were carrying there before.”
O’Leary also updated the press on competitive factors driving the airline’s growth in Denmark.
“This winter in 2016 we’re offering new bases, new routes, more capacity which also means lower fares. Our traffic is raised 106 million. Competitors are cutting capacity on Ryanair routes. We have hedged forward our oil for the next 12 months. We’ve saved just over 400 m euros and we plan to pass on those savings on to passengers in the form of lower fares. We expect to see our fares over the next twelve months decline by between 5 and 10 percent,” O’Leary said.
O’Leary anticipated questions about labor conditions for Ryanair crew by reporting, “New 5 year pay deals with our pilots and cabin crew, operating on the legendary Ryanair model, much more successful than the failed Danish model which continues to underpin our growth and also the job security and pay increases of our people.”
Do You Know What You Did Last Summer?
When questioned by the press whether he felt events over the last summer, when the disputes were at their peak, were handled properly, O’Leary replied:
“We believe we’re right. We believe any court ruling which allows competitor employees to block your aircraft is fundamentally wrong. We think the media here have not been entirely fair. That’s fine, but ultimately customers will vote with their feet.”
O’Leary was asked whether the appeal to the European Courts on the Danish court decision regarding labor action against the airlines’ Danish bases was ongoing or whether he had abandoned them. O’Leary confirmed that the appeal is ongoing, saying the process could take a couple of years because of the European Union’s process for reviewing these matters.
“It will take about three years for the appeal to get there, where we think it will win because one of the core fundamental tenants of the EU is the free movement of labor. Which the Danish model seems to insist that you’re not free to move here unless you join some Danish union,” O’Leary said.
“The ability of competitive unions to blockade our aircraft up here in Denmark is to me a fundamental slight or an attack on the free movement of goods and people around the European union. The Danes want to have it one way but don’t want to open up the market the other way.”
O’Leary had a bit of fun ribbing the Danish press during the proceedings. Actually, quite a lot of fun.
“Free press can write what you want. You may not write much that’s accurate, but you’re free to write what you want. But will it stop the growth in Copenhagen? No. It won’t.”–Michael O’Leary, Ryanair.
A member of the press pointed out that Danish labour unions claimed most of the people who are flying on Ryanair out of Copenhagen are not, in fact, themselves Danish, and asked O’Leary to speak to that.
“It’s true more than 1/2 of our passengers are inbound,” O’Leary replied. “It’s about 52% inbound 48% outbound. Are they Danes? We don’t actually know what nationality they are. We don’t really care. As long as the flights are 90% full, we get paid. So we don’t pay much attention to Danish unions. They haven’t proven to be very accurate or very reliable in most of their predictions. But they’ve been very good for promoting the Ryanair brand up here and awareness of Ryanair and for that we’re extremely grateful.”
O’Leary did not forget the current predicament of Prime Minister Rasmussen who was recently caught out taking a cheap holiday to Malaga on Ryanair with his partner.
“I believe [the unions are] giving your Prime Minister a lot of abuse at the moment,” he said. “What do they expect him to do? Fly on executive class at the taxpayers expense?”
For more details, read my one-one-interviews with Michael O’Leary at Skift: