Flop of the Month: Ryanair boss damages reputation... again

Just when we thought we’d largely seen the back of Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s controversial statements, his comment that Muslim men should be profiled at airports was a PR misstep.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has been criticised for controversial comments (©GettyImages)
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has been criticised for controversial comments (©GettyImages)

O’Leary told The Times that group of passengers “is where the threat is coming from”. He argued for less strict checks for families, because “the chances [that they] are going to blow them all up is zero”.

The Muslim Council of Britain labelled his comments “racist and discriminatory”. O’Leary pre-empted his critics, saying: “You can’t say stuff, because it’s racism, but it will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion. Thirty years ago it was the Irish.”

O’Leary’s inflammatory utterances boosted Ryanair’s early profile, and helped solidify its image as the cheapest airline around. But in recent years he’s kept a lower profile.

O’Leary may be playing a populist card as fears grow of longer queues for UK passengers post-Brexit. But it’s one thing to be bolshie about issues like boarding passes; quite another when addressing highly sensitive topics.

Ryanair’s image problem has been compounded by 2019’s strikes and, in 2018, its response to an alleged in-flight racist incident.

Last spring head of comms Robin Kiely left the airline, with Alejandra Ruiz named senior comms manager. CMO Kenny Jacobs resigned this month (February).

The new team may need a fresh charm offensive. Perhaps O’Leary is not the right person to front it.

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