Beyond sound bites: Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary on Inflight Connectivity

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has a well earned reputation as a loud-mouth blowhard who will say anything to get a rise from the crowd and get his name – and his crazy story – in print. He’s adopted the “all press is good press” strategy and executed on it nearly flawlessly over the years. But if you can get past the misogyny (I edited most of it out) and the sound bites to listen a bit longer there are very interesting insights to be had. Take in more than just the one-liners and real strategic ideas start to come through.

O’Leary recently spoke at the Future Travel Experience Europe conference in Dublin. During the 40ish minutes he spent on stage he delivered views on everything from ancillary sales to loyalty to in-flight internet connectivity to customer service. I’ve distilled the full performance down into a few clips that I believe do a great job of presenting his view for the future of aviation in Europe; some topics will have an impact beyond those borders as well.

In this four part series I take a look at Michael O’Leary’s views on:

On Wifi

“We won’t touch wifi with a barge pole.” That’s the one-liner you get right off the bat as O’Leary addresses the topic. It isn’t happening. Ever. No one will pay for it and the cost to carry it on the planes is HUGE. O’Leary estimates a 4% fuel burn penalty which is $80-100mm annually. Others in the industry dispute the 4% number as too high but the 96% load factor is hard to argue with.

But let him keep talking and the nuance shows up. If it can be made cheaper then perhaps he’d consider it. I’m sure Inmarsat is chomping at the bit to get its EAN flying with the much smaller on-board hardware kit (the satellite antenna fits in my hand!) to try to secure that business. Assuming the spectrum lawsuits don’t derail it along the way.

Also, the 96% number is great but today he’s mostly competing against a bunch of other airlines that also have no inflight connectivity. That is going to change dramatically in the next two years. Norwegian is live with its Global Eagle-provided connectivity, of course, and has been for 5 years now. Beyond that, the Lufthansa Group carriers are committed to Inmarsat’s GlobalXpress platform. Installs began late last year and are ongoing. IAG committed its short-haul fleets to the aforementioned Inmarsat EAN platform. Finnair and SAS chose ViaSat for their connectivity and the Air France/KLM group is likely to choose a short-haul connectivity provider soon.

Even after all those carriers get a solution flying it may take a bit of time for consumers to shift their buying habits based on wifi availability. It took a few years for that to be a thing in the United States where deployment is way ahead of Europe and it is still not the top factor for the vast majority of consumers. But it is a factor now where previously it was not. And O’Leary left the opening for addressing that later, albeit likely not with a barge pole.

Beyond Sound Bites: The full series

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.