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Ryanair, an Airline Which Thrives on Controversy

29/05/2013 15:30 BST | Updated 28/07/2013 10:12 BST

One of the maxims of business is that the more effort you dedicate to pleasing your customers, the more successful you are.

And, of course, the contrary is that if you disappoint or annoy customers then they will never engage with you again and the word will spread.

Of course, to every rule there is an exception and in terms of what is referred to as 'customerisation' the company that defies logic is Ryanair.

Indeed, Ryanair, or more especially its chief executive Michael O'Leary, who is its public face, has made it his business to insult whosoever he feels like having a go at; including its passengers.

Below are some of his quotes on those who fly with Ryanair (many more can be found in Plane Speaking: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael O'Leary by Paul Kilduff and which was published by Aurum Press in 2010).

To a passenger who demanded a refund:

"You're not getting a refund so **** off. We don't want to hear your sob stories. What part of 'no refund' don't you understand?"

He is equally forthright on customer service:

"People say the customer is always right, but you know what - they're not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so."

On overweight passengers:

"Nobody wants to sit beside a really fat ****** on board. We have been frankly astonished at the number of customers who don't only want to tax fat people but torture them."

To passengers who bemoan having to print their boarding pass or turn up without them:

"We think [they] should pay 60 euros for being so stupid."

On the belief that Ryanair is uninterested in customer service:

"Are we going to say sorry for our lack of customer service? Absolutely not."

When asked about rumours that Ryanair would charge for using onboard toilets:

"One thing we have looked at is maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in the future. If someone wanted to pay £5 to go to the toilet I would carry them myself. I would wipe their bums for a fiver."

For almost all other businesses (and non-profit-making organisations), doing what O'Leary appears to delight in doing would be suicide.

To be fair to O'Leary he knows the value of being controversial and realises that even if you are controversial this will give you free publicity which, in any commercial situation, has value.

And no-one can argue that Ryanair is successful.

Last week it announced that its profits after tax had risen by 13% to £481 million and that as well as adding 5% to the number of passengers who flew with Ryanair (a total of 79.3 million) it added another 217 routes in the last year (some 1600 in total).

In order to cope with this expansion Ryanair placed an order with Boeing in March for 175 new aircraft at a cost of over £10 billion.

For a company that didn't exist 30 years ago that is pretty phenomenal success especially given that even O'Leary acknowledged that making profit running airlines is difficult; "Ryanair will never make money. It will always lose money. It's an airline. Forget it."

But can we believe what Ryanair proclaims to be 'facts' about its ability to arrive on time and not lose baggage?

It claims that over 90% of its flights land on time which is better that 'every other European airline.'

The Civil Aviation Authority defines being on time as within 15 minutes of what was stated.

However, research carried out shows that Ryanair is being a bit economical with the truth and that on a survey of flights to 10 airports its punctuality index should in fact be 83%.

Its claim that it beats other European airlines is also questioned as there have been no figures produced by the Association of European Airlines since 2009.

What is recognised is that many of the airports Ryanair flies to are small which allows it to both avoid the high landing costs but to avoid the delays frequently experienced at international destinations.

That many of the airports Ryanair flies to are not close to where you really want to get to, and will require an expensive taxi ride or train/coach trip (try using Ryanair to get to Barcelona), is one of the enigmas of this airline.

Additionally there is the tendency of airlines to engage in what is known as 'schedule passing' whereby they state that the journey time will be longer than required though Ryanair claims not to do this.

Amusingly Ryanair claims to misplace (or lose) less baggage than others.

However, commentators point out that as well as deterring passengers from putting bags in the hold by charging you for this 'privilege', Ryanair tends to fly short routes with fewer changeovers where the likelihood of mistakes can occur.

Ryanair claims to be the world's favourite airline but simply because it carries more passengers than any other carrier. What I would happily accept is that Ryanair gives the impression that it offers better value in terms of fares than its rivals.

Once again even this frequently turns out to be less clearcut than Ryanair would have us believe as all of the mandatory extras which appear before you can actually book your flight bump the price up.

There is another maxim in business which states that you may not like what the customer has to say but they remain the customer.

In Ryanair's case there is no denying that it is a highly successful company which is always searching for ways to extract more value from its customers.

Perhaps there may come a point when it stretches the patience of its passengers too far though that doesn't appear to be likely any time soon.