Publicity seeking? Moi?

Michael O’Leary may come out with the most ludicrous ideas known to man, but the one thing his ideas are certainly not lacking is an agenda.

Is his recent standing seats idea a joke? Not quite, more like a carefully-honed play in the Ryanair PR game. And as always, a successful one at that. It’s all part of the  airline’s unique PR approach.

According to O’Leary, his airline is considering vertical seats similar to bar stools with seatbelts. But unsurprisingly, aviation experts say such plans are completely unrealistic. But there’s PR method behind the madness – a standing room only ticket is, traditionally, dirt-cheap. So it’s easy to see why this idea appeals to both a no-frills carrier and its bargain-hungry customers. Headline grabbing schemes such as this, which fail to materialise, are all part and parcel of the strategy. Charging passengers to use toilets is another example, as is a so-called fat-tax – surcharging overweight flyers.

This is not quite a case of any, publicity is good publicity, but rather, as PR Week puts it: “They’ve only got one message, which is no frills. Ryanair is all about getting you from A to B as cheaply as possible,” So everything Mr O’Leary says supports the Ryanair message that his airline does everything it can to keep costs down. Even its publicity comes cheap, given his headline-grabbing ways – like, for example, his wearing a Germany shirt to a press conference after England’s World Cup defeat. “It’s kind of genius. There were catcalls from the assembled journalists when he wore the Germany shirt. But that picture was used in all the papers. His message was that now England are out of World Cup, it’s time to get away.”

According to PR Week again: “Journalists love him because he provides good quotes and good pictures, and compelling top lines for their stories. And it’s a strategy that works for them – they fly more people than BA or Easyjet.”

Back to the standing seats. Will it happen?  Boeing, manufacturer of Ryanair’s fleet of 737-800s, says no, “We are not considering standing-only accommodations, nor do we have any plans to do so,” said spokesman Nick West. “Among other things, stringent regulatory requirements – including seats capable of withstanding a force of 16 Gs – pretty much preclude such an arrangement.” Sixteen Gs is 16 times the force of gravity, so the seats must be strong (and strongly-secured enough) not to fall over in the event of a crash. So vertical seats would require more reinforcing than standard seats, because the passenger’s centre of gravity is higher. It’d also mean heavier planes which use more fuel, and more cost. Ryanair was never really going to carry this out was it?

Ryanair have said that they didn’t set out to publicise the standing seats story – it just came out in a TV interview with O’Leary. Hmm.

O’Leary knows what he’s doing. And he does it because it works.

The Ryanair publicity machine strikes again!

Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd

Share this article