THREE years ago, Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, made the sudden decision to be nicer to its customers. Before that, brusqueness had been part of its strategy. Fares were low, but check-in staff were famously ruthless. One family was charged €600 ($701) to print their forgotten boarding passes (“idiots” according to Michael O’Leary, the airline’s boss, when they complained). Gatekeepers would obsessively check carry-on bags, demanding huge fees for those a smidgen over the limit. That culture started at the top. Mr O’Leary liked to berate his passengers, the second their expectations rose. “You're not getting a refund so fuck off. We don't want to hear your sob stories. What part of 'no refund' don't you understand?", he once told them.

It was a highly successful, perhaps even clever, strategy. The airline went from being an insignificant Irish operator to Europe’s second largest carrier after Lufthansa, regularly reporting juicy profits. Every time Mr O’Leary mooted the idea of installing...Continue reading