Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has long been an anti-hero of this column. I loved his airline when it was consistently rude to me as a passenger, because it set benchmarks of ruthless punctuality and rock-bottom fares that shook the whole European airline sector.
I was suspicious of the idea that, having exhausted other routes to growth, he was going to polish up his customer service and stop ‘unnecessarily pissing people off’; but the new tone is a triumph, and Ryanair’s profit is expected to top €750 million for the current year.
‘If I’d known being nicer to customers was going to work so well,’ O’Leary says, ‘I’d have started many years ago.’ Having once been so dismissive of the internet that he hired a student and a sixth-former to design Ryanair’s first website, he has even turned techie and created ‘Ryanair Labs’ to develop state-of-the-art ‘user forums’. We should put him on the ‘most admired’ pedestal that I fear — after last week’s tragic Virgin Galactic crash — has just been vacated by Sir Richard Branson.