Ryanair's Michael O'Leary wades into cabin crew wages row

How many Ryanair passengers have not, at some point on their travels, been frustrated to learn that the airport they are being flown to is more than an hour away from their intended destination? The answer: at least one.

‘I’ve never!’ says Michael O’Leary with a glint in his eyes. The longstanding chief executive acknowledges that Ryanair is renowned for utilising ‘secondary’ airports, making it the butt of some ‘good jokes’. But he says times are changing – three quarters of his planes now land at ‘primary’ airports.

Have passengers noticed this customer-friendly switch? Perhaps not. In January, Ryanair claimed the dubious honour of being named as British flyers’ least favourite short-haul airline – for the sixth year in a row – by consumer group Which? 

Ryanair bought Niki Lauda’s Laudamotion last year

Does Ryanair have a problem? ‘Complete and utter nonsense,’ says O’Leary. ‘The challenge…when you get these nonsensical pay reports – which are meaningless rubbish – is you have a huge proportion of pilots who are male and a disproportionate amount of women are cabin crew.’

He says Ryanair is trying to fix the disparity by recruiting more female pilots and more male cabin crew. He also said last week that he would favour a woman replacing him as chief executive of Ryanair one day.

O’Leary argues that his industry, and chief executives in general, receive an excessive amount of scrutiny on pay, illustrating his point using football’s Premier League.

‘Nobody ever says anything about the Premiership football clubs,’ he claims. ‘But they talk about CEO pay – it’s always, ‘Uuuuh, you’re paid a million, five million a year’.

‘Bloody Premiership football! Wayne Rooney, or whoever it is, is having £20-25million a year – for what? Kicking a football. And he doesn’t even do that well any more.’

How many chief executives would risk offending millions of customers with controversial comments about national sporting icons and gender pay gaps? The answer is: at least one.