“Frugal can be a nasty word”- Ryanair

Imagine going from London to Dublin in less than one hour on a flight that cost less than $100. The catch is you’re on a tiny plane with seats made of material you didn’t know existed and everything is plastic, you question if this is a toy plane or something that could actually do its job and fly.

The low budget Irish airline company Ryanair became infamous in 2010 for their poor ethical treatment of employees and customers. Ryanair is known throughout Europe and those traveling across Europe to be cheap, easy and average based on ticket price, checking in and quality of flight performance. Around the same time The CEO of Ryanair Michael O’Leary was known for his outrageous and unethical type behavior, which was not benefitting the company’s image. O’Leary was not a pleasant leader; company members were forbidden from using company pens and charging their cell phones with company electricity. A CEO who does not let employees charge their phones fearing a loss of electricity most likely has to ease up on saving costs. O’Leary also showed an unfortunate side when he fought with customers and yelled at them in public.

To make matters worse, customers started noticing the hidden fees and became outraged at the company who prides themselves on cheap flights without hassle. Well this was not totally true, yes ticket prices were cheap but that was just the seat alone. The hidden cost were online check-in fees, fees for those who forget their boarding pass, and fees to check-in a second bag. These are all things that customers who are flying usually don’t think about being charged for, that is where Ryanair was able to sneak in these other charges. The slogan “Economy class service for economy class price” was getting messy and became unethical due to drops in rates for the company mantra to use. Ryanair is a profit maximizer, which can be beneficial but when the problem of ignoring ethical behavior was put on the table the company was tested if they could balance both being a maximize and ethical. They then had limited choices to preparing to make sacrifices for ethical reasons, and this was just to keep the company afloat.

In the fall of 2015 Ryanair revamped their website and attempted to rebrand their image. Michael O’Leary had a change of heart when his company was not bringing in the profit he hoped for; there are claims that he is now pleasant to customers and employees. O’Leary has shown he cares by being “nicer” and apparently it has paid off after the first-half profit went up by more than a third last year. I myself was using the old website and then was directed to the new one, it is better and explains the cost of what a traveler is actually getting into in terms of how much everything will be at the end of their travels.

Applying Ryanair’s case in ethical terms of Consequentialism, knowing right from wrong and that there are consequences to actions could benefit Ryanair. It is not wrong to be a company based on affordability but they have to know consequences to badly treating employees and customers for the benefit of profit.

Ryanair is said to have transformed their image by scrapping irksome charges and restrictions such as now allowing a second carry on bag. Ryanair definitely worked on customer satisfaction but I had a harder time finding information on employ life improving. “The referendum is going to be very important for Ryanair as a business and Ireland generally. We very much want the UK to stay [in the EU] … When push comes to shove, when it comes to the Scottish referendum and in the general election, people will vote in the best interests of the economy and stay in Europe,” O’Leary said.

Ryanair still has big change to make but O’Leary must be aware of his ethical choices if he wants the company to be competitive and be long lasting and that means sacrificing profit.



9 thoughts on ““Frugal can be a nasty word”- Ryanair

  1. I immediately thought of England as soon as I saw “RyanAir” – I don’t think I realized how much I was on that site when I was abroad, haha. A few of the other European airlines follow the same general business practice such as Jet2, easyJet, etc which I’m sure you’ve heard of/seen while abroad. I think you make a good point that the consequences – upset employees/customers are definitely harming the employees, but I think people were still using it because it was an inexpensive alternative. Can if be argued that more people are being benefited because they were able to safely get to their destination at a low price (which makes them happy because their wallets won’t hurt as much)?


  2. Margaret, you wrote a great post about ethical theories related to Ryanair! I have never heard of the company itself, but that is most likely due to the fact I have not been to Europe (yet). I also agree with you when you state “it is not wrong to be a company based on affordability but they have to know consequences to badly treating employees and customers for the benefit of profit,” under the consequentialist theory. In my opinion, Ryanair should’ve been more transparent to its customers with the switch to a more profitable business model. They were founded on the basis of cheap flights, and it is alright to switch that idea, but it is so crucial for Ryanair and/or O’Leary to inform individuals of the “hidden fees” they were charging. They risked losing a huge customer base from their unethical practices.


    1. Lexi, I know my choice of an Irish company seems random but I had previously read an article about Ryanair’s ethics and thought it was a great example for this prompt. I think you are right on target by saying Ryanair should have been more transparent to its customers with the switch to a more profitable business model. I also still think it is odd the question remains for how their employees are treated.


    2. Lexi, I completely agree with the point you made about transparency with Ryanair’s customers. I do not think it is unethical for a company like that to switch to a more profitable business model, especially if their old model was quite controversial (according to some points made in the blog post). However, because the company was created solely for providing a very cheap flying experience, it is essential that they notify their customers quickly and efficiently that they are moving in a different direction in terms of their business model.


  3. Maybe Ryanair hasn’t exactly figured it out, but I truly believe that the airline industry is a sitting duck for innovative disruption. The planes are all from the 70s and the process of flying is terrible. When’s the Uber for planes coming out? How might drones play a role in personal domestic travel? Definitely want my own drone to fly around in.


    1. West, I agree that the airline industry is ripe for a massive innovation in the coming years. Now that you mention it, air travel seems to be lagging behind other industries in terms of innovating their customer experience. We’ve all gotten so used to the way things are, that if a company came in and did something wild, it could catch fire and change the way we fly. There is a huge opportunity in this industry.


      1. Spencer and West, the both of you make a great point that air travel is behind on innovation. I think this comes from the source of airlines especially in the U.S realizing how much profit they need to succeed while embracing where we are at in society of everyone desiring easy and affordable travel.


  4. Well, as a business strategy, it seems that RyanAir was betting on how much ‘suffering” it could inflict on customers in exchange for cheap fares. I mean, if there was no deception, then I am not sure crappy conditions is unethical.

    It may not work as business strategy, though.


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