He's trying to whip up cheap publicity by making light of his airline's dreadful penchant for microcharging its customers to death. On a TV show in Britain, he said, perhaps in jest, he was considering charging customers for barf bags. "Remind me not to be nauseous on one of your flights," the host quipped.
You may recall a few months ago when O'Leary drew bad blood in the press by saying he was trying to figure out a way to fit a coin slot on the toilet door of all his airlines so that his passengers would have to pay to pee.
Following the resulting uproar, anger, and voodoo doll poking, he claimed he was only trying to get some cheap publicity, but the damage was done. His airline, Ryanair, now stood as a symbol for everything that's wrong in a corporate world gone crazy for petty fees.
He didn't learn his lesson, and now he's doing it again. Apparently, he thinks it's hysterical that his customers have to shoulder all his extra fees.
They're flying under the burden of luggage fees from $20 to more than $100, $40 fees for carrying more than one carry-on (even if one's a bag of magazines bought at the airport), and $7.60 to print a ticket out, since it costs $60 to get one at the airport.
Most of the American airlines have learned to duplicate Ryanair's ideas as a way of shoring up heavy losses. And now -- tee-hee -- O'Leary wants to tease his customers again about being bled to death. Disdain for the customer is like a disease among some people in the business world. Behold the symptom.
Will he end up charging for vomit bags? The idea is absurd. It's too hard to implement. Nauseated passengers can hardly be relied upon to track down a flight attendant and conduct a transaction in the seconds before spewing. The fact is that it's a lot more expensive to clean someone's lunch out of the seat cracks than it is to give them a free waxed bag.
The real message here is that as the principles of microcharging sweep the business world, the men and women who run companies are being tempted into viewing customers as their pathetic playthings.
Ryanair, which just posted its first-ever annual loss, may indeed be a pioneer of income techniques, but it may also eventually prove to be exploring new ways to irrevocably alienate its customer base.