You’ve got to hand it to him

Michael O’Leary. Yes, he may be a brash bastard, he may be doing his damnest to take the romance out of flying, he may be unashamedly ferrying drunken louts onto the streets of innocent cities all over Europe.

But he’s a master at PR. Not by lying, not by spinning and certainly not by trying to be logical about it.

No, he does mocking, and when pushed, he’ll put his hands up, make his case and leave people without a leg to stand on.

Example: thon incident on Monday when a Ryanair plane lost cabin pressure and had to make an emergency dive from 30,000 to 8,000 feet before diverting to land at a nearby runway in France. There was a nice, media savvy passenger on board who was able to state, calmly and for the record, exactly where Ryanair went wrong: they didn’t tell people during the dive what was happening; the cabin crew didn’t circulate the cabin and give directions on operating the oxygen masks; and the oxygen masks didn’t work because the bags didn’t inflate.

This was happening on the Today show, and then dear old Mick was asked to comment on this shoddy state of affairs.

“Well,” said he in a badly paraphrased version of events, “yes, the pilot didn’t make an announcement. The crew didn’t make an announcement either. And they didn’t circulate to instruct the passengers in the use of the masks. Because the pilots were too busy putting on their own masks, and then pushing the plane a little bit out of its normal operating envelope while communicating with the ground and any other aircraft nearby. And the crew were busy putting on their own masks so that they didn’t pass out themselves in the cabin, which wouldn’t have done the passengers any good at all…”

Oh, and O’Leary also said that the masks were working, and that they’re not meant to produce a large flow. Which is probably a good thing; I can’t imagine that having several hundred bags of highly flammable gas in the centre of a cabin would be a good idea.

In the interview, O’Leary basically agreed with the main points, thusly disarming the interviewer who was expecting a defensive interviewee. And then he turned it around; of course that’s the way we do it, it’s the way that it needs to be done. Communication with the passengers waits until the passengers are safe; there’s too much going on in the first couple of minutes that needs to be done*.

Quiet, understated and totally non-combative. And he came away having made his case and leaving no room for argument. That is damn good PR. And you’ve got to appreciate that when you see it, even if you don’t like the man.

As an aside, the passenger mentioned that the French airport fire people did very well, and had the runway lined with emergency vehicles when they landed, despite having ‘only’ fifteen minutes notice. That ain’t nothing, the whole point of the fire vehicles at any large airport is to be at the site and working with one hundred and twenty seconds of someone saying GO. I’m sure that they thought fifteen minutes waiting was agony; just enough time to get onto the third cup of coffee, not enough time to go for the required bathroom break following two earlier cups of coffee…

* – the thing that they’re trying to drill into me at the moment is ‘aviate-navigate-communicate’ : if anything goes wrong, fly the aircraft first. Then decide where you fly it next and get that set up. Then you tell people what went wrong, what you’re doing about it and where you’re going with it. Seems very sensible, but when you’re talking a ten second gap between starting the first and finishing the third it gets a little more complicated…

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