Brendan O’Neill

The real reason snobs are calling for a Ryanair boycott

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If you had to draw up a list of people and things it is de rigueur to loathe, it would definitely include Ryanair. Tabloid newspapers, Jeremy Clarkson, Brexit, red-hued men who pop up in the Question Time audience to moan about Jeremy Corbyn, and Ryan-bloody-air — these are things that every self-respecting member of the chattering class must bristle against.

And that is why one moral error made by a Ryanair crew member has led to demands for the entire company to be boycotted. ‘Let’s all boycott this airline!’, the right-on have cried in response to a racist incident on a flight being badly handled by an attendant. Yeah, right, like these people would ever deign to use this cheap airline with its cheap passengers in the first place.

This is the scandal over a Ryanair crew member’s mishandling of a horrible racist event. The video of the incident makes for deeply unpleasant viewing. Filmed on a flight from Barcelona to Stansted, it shows a man yelling abuse at a black woman. He calls her an ‘ugly black bastard’. He physically threatens her: ‘I’ll push you to another seat.’ Nasty stuff.

Thankfully, other passengers intervene, telling the man to shut up and calling for him to be thrown off the plane. A Ryanair crew member also reprimands the man, telling him he is being ‘super rude’. But then the crew member makes a moral error: he moves the woman who was being abused rather than the man who was abusing her.

That was bad. To inconvenience the victim of racist insults is a misjudgement. However, if we are being generous — and when it comes to stressed-out, badly paid flight attendants, I’m always inclined to be generous — we can surely agree that the flight attendant was rattled by what he was witnessing and made a speedy decision to try to calm things down. It is a little unseemly for comfortably off politicians and columnists to rain fury on this flight attendant. What do they want — a sacking?

If we stay with being generous, we must also say that one badly handled incident does not indict all of Ryanair. To extrapolate from a fleeting tense exchange on one flight that the entire company itself is immoral and wicked and in need of boycotting is somewhat over-the-top. After all, Ryanair operates 600,000 flights a year — I wager that virtually all of them pass off peacefully.

There’s a sinister opportunistic streak to this outburst of Ryanairphobia. Some people have latched on to this racist incident with relish, keen to cite it as evidence of a view they already held: that Ryanair is nasty and foul. They are exploiting a racist incident to score points against a company they already didn’t like.

And why don’t they like Ryanair? Because it is anti-green and anti-PC. Because it flies the great unwashed around Europe, emitting huge amounts of carbon so that portly Brits can spend a couple of weeks sunning themselves in Spain. Because it is cheap and no-frills. And in an era when the right-on prefer their capitalism to be nice and hip and to flatter their feelings of moral superiority — whether it’s Lush putting up anti-police posters or supermarkets agreeing to stock Fairtrade chocolate — that is seen as really bad.

They hate Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary because he blasphemes against their political orthodoxies. ‘The best thing to do with environmentalists is shoot them’, he once said. ‘Let’s go nuclear... and then watch the eco-nuts go crazy’, he says. When the great and the good argue that flying is a sin because it pollutes the environment, O’Leary accuses them of spouting ‘cliched horseshit’.

Most unforgivably of all in the eyes of the liberal elite who prefer to go on interesting cultural holidays, via British Airways, natch, O’Leary is unapologetic about his role in allowing less well-off people to take to the skies. ‘For years flying has been the preserve of rich fuckers. Now everyone can afford to fly’, he once said.

I love that. It’s a pretty radical statement. But for the eco-worried, anti-mass tourism, gammon-hating new left, it’s tantamount to a speechcrime. This is why the environmentalist group Plane Stupid once lambasted the likes of Ryanair for creating a culture of ‘binge-flying’ in which loads of people jet off to destinations ‘chosen not for their architecture or culture but because people can fly there for 99p and get loaded for a tenner’.

You absolute snobs. This is why you hate Ryanair: because it’s a cheap-flight business that facilitates holidays for what you view as ‘cheap people’. And now you’re using this racist incident as grist to that snobbish mill. That is also pretty immoral.

Written byBrendan O’Neill

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked and a columnist for The Australian and The Big Issue.

Topics in this articleSociety