A version of this article appears in the June 23 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
In a not entirely unexpected move, asserts that a book published last year in France—an expose, of sorts, of the airline’s strategy—is defamatory. The Irish low-cost airline states that it will take Editions Altipresse to court, but toward exactly what end has not been made clear. The book, Ryanair, Low Cost Mais à Quel Prix? (Ryanair, Low-Cost, but at What Price?) was released in May 2013 and now, 14 months later, a legal protest probably is not feasible.
The author is reputed to be a French Ryanair-800 captain writing under the pen name Christian Fletcher; the airline’s human resources department was said to have determined who he is and rumor has it that he may have quit. Altipresse’s CEO Jean-Pierre Otelli, an experienced pilot with 14,000 flight hours, has not commented on that matter. However, he says he is not alarmed by Ryanair’s legal posturing now, pointing out that Fletcher’s manuscript was thoroughly vetted by Altipresse’s lawyers prior to publication and was deemed accurate.
A Ryanair official says the airline “does not comment on pending legal matters.” She did add, though, that Fletcher’s statements regarding the airline’s safety record are “untrue and are disproven by the recent joint statement of the Irish and Spanish safety authorities, which confirmed Ryanair’s safety was on par with the safest airlines in Europe.”
However Fletcher’s criticisms encompass far more than safety issues. He says, for example, that 70% of the airline’s pilots and 60% of its flight attendants are self-employed. He adds that both the cabin and cockpit crews are expected to cover most expenses normally handled by employers. Type certification fees, uniforms and meals all are an individual’s responsibility. Another complaint is that crews are frequently moved from one operational base to another in quick rotation.
Fletcher also decries Ryanair’s ancillary income policies, a sentiment echoed throughout the ranks of European travelers. One example cited is that passengers are asked to print their own boarding passes; failure to do so may incur a €70 ($91) fee for one issued at the gate.
After the book’s publication, Ryanair established some passenger-friendly rules such as honoring seat requests and waiving fees for the second piece of carry-on luggage.
The airline is also making headlines in France for other reasons. In 2013, the court of Aix-en-Provence, near Marseille-Provence airport, imposed a €200,000 ($262,000) fine and a €9 million penalty for ignoring local mandatory health care, social security and pension regulations.
Nearly 130 members of Ryanair’s ground staff, at Marseille-Provence, instead of being on a French payroll, were processed via the company’s Irish headquarters. According to French regulations, the workers were supposed to be part of the French public welfare system—dual-funded by contributions from employee’s salaries and the employer’s coffers. A complementary insurance set-up is meant to reimburse for some medical expenses not met by state-run social security.
By bypassing the French system, Ryanair was able to slash its operating costs at French airports. In the wake of a protracted, embittered fight with state and local authorities, the airline closed its Marseille base. Although CEO Michael O’Leary initially claimed he would simply abandon Marseille, he maintained frequent services to multiple destinations.
As for the publisher, Otelli says no similar legal action against an investigative book exists. However, O’Leary is noted for his contentious behavior toward competitors, aviation authorities and the European Commission. Frequently, aggressive slogans are displayed on his aircraft’s fuselage, such as “Arrivederci” when the Italian carrier was close to bankruptcy.
Ryanair last year carried more than 82 million passengers, it operates 300737-800s to 186 destinations and is, by far, Europe’s largest low-fare carrier.
The book was recently published in the Netherlands and an English version is contemplated. This would most probably exacerbate tensions between the Irish carrier and the French publisher.