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Ryanair CEO Mocks Defunct Competitor's Laid-Off Workers

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AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Getting laid off is one thing. But getting mocked by the head of another rival after it? That's even worse.

At a Spanish airport this week, Michael O'Leary, the CEO of low-cost airline Ryanair signalled a victory sign in front of a group of former employees of Spainair, a now-defunct competitor. The recently laid-off employees were reportedly protesting their former employer's decision to cut off all operations, according to The Consumerist.

Despite the protesters' misfortunes, O'Leary made a crack at their expense.

"I'd like to thank all of our fans outside for helping us to promote the arrival of Ryanair in Bilbao today," he said.

This isn't the first time the discount carrier has attracted negative attention. The airline is currently being sued by a passenger who claims that the company violated a European Union policy during a March 2010 Icelandic volcano when it allegedly did not provide care and assistance to passengers during extraordinary circumstances, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

The low-cost airline has also come under criticism for its low wages and high customer fees, sparking outrage when reports surfaced it was paying airport workers a bonus to spot heavy luggage and charge customers, according to the Daily Mail.

Just this month, one man reportedly handcuffed himself to a goal post at a soccer game while wearing a t-shirt protesting Ryanair's "lowest wages," according to the Telegraph.

Though the the soccer fan specifically targeted Ryanair for its cheap wages, it's mostly par for the course for low-cost airlines to offer low-paying wages, sometimes regardless of unionization. U.S. discount airlines such as Airtran and Southwest for example, are governed by more liberal union rules than other carriers, allowing them to pay workers less per hour on average and "crosstrain" them -- an arrangement whereby flight attendants can clean cabins and pilots load bags, according to Money Magazine. Another discount carrier, JetBlue, has been able to keep its expenses lower than that of many of its competitors because it doesn't face union costs, according to Bloomberg.

Unionizing U.S. airline workers could soon be much tougher. Congress recently passed legislation that includes a provision requiring half of employees in a potential bargaining unit to vote for a union election, rather than the earlier threshold of 35 percent, according to the Federal Times. In response to the provision, flight attendants from more than 20 airlines held an Occupy protest at the Los Angeles International Airport.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated that JetBlue workers are unionized. JetBlue pilots voted in August 2011 not to join a union.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this post didn't clarify that workers for discount airlines are governed by more liberal union rules that allow them to be paid less per hour on average.

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