In defence of budget airlines

I have a memory picture of an urban highway in Shenzen, southern China. Recently built, with abundant flowering shrubs planted along its central reservation, it was lined as far as the eye could see by uncountable apartment towers, many of them unfinished. This was 2009 and it was my first glimpse of the debt-fuelled property bonanza that had begun to grip the Chinese economy – alongside the export-led manufacturing boom that was also plainly visible, thanks to satellite maps of the vast agglomeration of factories surrounding the new-rich residential areas. It’s easy to be a permanent bear in any market, because history tells us they all come crashing down in

Letters: Why do we bully PMs’ wives?

Strong leaders Sir: Freddy Gray states that ‘voters seemed most enthusiastic about the leaders who removed their liberties’ (‘Leaderless’, 18 June). I believe people just like to see their government take strong measures. People like to see the effect of a government policy straight away, especially in a crisis. This is probably the reason so many Americans like the idea of Trump’s wall. It is an immediate and physical solution to a large problem that can be seen and felt, even if it is not necessarily the best solution. If the government, for example, came up with a policy that said all those on jobseekers’ allowance must do at least

Why Ryanair is the best airline

According to Richard Branson, the secret to running a successful airline is to keep the staff happy. They will, in turn, be nice to the passengers, who will themselves be happy and flock to fly. A charming if naive theory. Virgin Atlantic, run on this principle, has teetered on the edge of insolvency for years. Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary, on the other hand, doesn’t seem especially obsessed with the morale of either his cabin crews or his passengers. He cares about watching the pennies and making sure his planes run on time. He is a brutal negotiator. When Willie Mullins, who trained his 60 racehorses, tried to increase his

Ruthless Ryanair could show us the future of aviation

Aviation, nuclear power and public transport — along with good restaurants, golden retrievers and hand-knitted bed socks — are, as Julie Andrews put it, a few of my favourite things. So in a week when the news is as depressing as I can remember since the dark winter of 1973-4, I might as well write about all of them. I’ll try to find points of light along the way but it’s not going to be easy. First the plight of airlines, now so extreme that it’s hard to foresee any outcome other than nationalisation for many major carriers. Even if the new ban on leisure travel ends, only pre-flight Covid

Now is not the time to throw money at airlines

British Airways warns of 12,000 redundancies. Ryanair announces 3,000 job losses as ‘a minimum to survive the next 12 months’; Virgin Atlantic adds 3,000 more. The aero engine makers Rolls-Royce and GE talk of more than 20,000 job losses between them. Of all the sectors hard hit by pandemic, aviation is one whose prospects look blighted as far as the horizon. What should governments do about it? Global trade will return to pre-crisis levels, but business travel may never do so: why would companies bear the risk and expense when video-conferencing is so cheap and efficient? Even if vaccines against Covid-19 are available by next year, international travel will be

Why Keynesian theory can’t dig us out of Brexit uncertainty

‘It is seldom wise to sacrifice a present evil for a doubtful advantage in the future,’ wrote John Maynard Keynes as a precocious undergraduate in 1904. As we contemplate what no deal might be about to bring, those words seem to confirm the view of his living followers that the sage who died in 1946 (though usually labelled a free-trader) would have voted Remain.      But he was also well known as a pragmatist, so it’s worth asking what he would be telling us to do now, as the cliff-edge looms while UK GDP growth has already fallen to its slowest rate since 2012, at 1.4 per cent last year, according

Thanks, Ryanair, for wrecking our holiday

The Young family’s annual summer holiday could not have got off to a poorer start, thanks to Ryanair. As veteran customers of the budget airline will know, you have to jump through an endless number of hoops beforehand to avoid having to pay punitive fees at the airport. In fact, the cost of failing to navigate the advance check-in website correctly is so high, ‘fees’ is the wrong word. Fines, more like. Fees are what you have to pony up in order to avoid paying the fines, since checking in is far from free. Anyway, Caroline got one thing wrong in spite of peering at Ryanair’s website for at least

A rate rise in November? After years of dithering, don’t bet on it

It is more than three years since Bank of England governor Mark Carney was accused by Labour MP and Treasury Select Committee member Pat McFadden of behaving like ‘an unreliable boyfriend, one day hot, one day cold’ in his hints about forthcoming interest-rate rises. And it’s more than a decade since the last time the official UK bank rate actually moved upwards: the only shift since McFadden’s remark has been a cut from 0.5 per cent to 0.25 per cent in August last year. In fact there’s a palpable sense that the Bank, in common with other central banks, has all but lost the power to deploy interest rates as

Ryanair’s chaos prediction is coming true – but Brexit isn’t to blame

So, the worst has happened, just as Ryanair said it would. The budget airline has had to cancel thousands of flights – around 50 of them, every day, for the next six weeks. It follows an ominous warning that was made by chief executive Michael O’ Leary last month: “What is increasingly likely to happen is that there will be no flights. Mrs May and the Brexiteers will be trying to explain that to you in 12 months’ time, why getting a car to Scotland or a ferry to Ireland are the only options on offer.” Except, that is, while last month’s warning concerned Brexit, this week’s cancellations concerned a cock-up

British Airways hasn’t been ‘the world’s favourite airline’ for ages

Are you reading this in the departure lounge, en route to an Easter break? If like me you’ve chosen to fly with Ryanair, I suspect you will judge the experience by the ease of airport parking, the length of the security queue and whether they play that fanfare signalling ‘another on-time arrival’. Anything approaching decent cabin service will come as a bonus: you’ll hear things like ‘Gosh, these girls work hard considering they’re paid next to nothing’ or ‘Actually, this lasagne’s not bad for a fiver.’ Four years into a marketing programme called Always Getting Better, supposedly about being nicer to customers, the genius of the Ryanair model is that

A whistleblower mystery that illuminates the inner turmoil of the banking sector

What troubled places banks have become, I thought as I listened to two news stories, one concerning a formal reprimand for Barclays chief executive Jes Staley after he tried to uncover the identity of a ‘whistleblower’, the other trailing new revelations about the Libor scandal. But both, I’m afraid, were so badly explained that the majority of listeners must have been none the wiser. The Staley episode is mysterious. Anonymous letters to Barclays directors made allegations about a recently recruited senior executive: Staley felt this was an ‘unfair personal attack’, believed ‘honestly but mistakenly’ that it was permissible for him to identify the author, and tried to do so with

Lies, damned lies and…

A Ryanair plane in a Stansted hangar was not the best backdrop for George Osborne’s claim that the economic argument about the European Union is now over and that his ‘consensus’ has prevailed. In recent years, Ryanair has lost its status as the fastest-growing budget airline in Europe: that honour goes to Norwegian Air, which has thrived outside the EU. And on the day of the Chancellor’s speech, a group of Ryanair passengers had announced their intention to take out a lawsuit against the company for what they see as unfair tricks to disguise the true cost of tickets. The Chancellor does the reverse of Ryanair: he tries to frighten

Portrait of the week | 28 May 2015

Home A Bill to enable a referendum on whether voters wanted Britain to ‘remain’ in the European Union figured in the Queen’s Speech. Another Bill prohibited any rise in income tax rates, VAT or national insurance before 2020. Tenants of housing associations would be given the right to buy their homes. Provision for Scottish devolution was promised in fulfilment of the recommendations of the cross-party Smith Commission. A ‘powerhouse’ in the north was to come into being through cities being given powers over housing, transport, planning and policing. Laws on strikes would be tightened. Red tape for business would be reduced, and a new quango set up to invigilate late

Want to avoid a parking ticket? Then play the parking cowboys at their own game

No speech that Ed Miliband has made over the past five years has generated so much derision on the right as when he divided capitalists into ‘predators and producers’. That was because everyone knows there is a lot of truth in Ed’s analysis. And worse, the legal system seems to support the predators. Today, a company called ParkingEye won a victory in the Appeal Court against Barry Beavis, a fish and chip shop owner, whom it had ‘fined’ £85 for overstaying a two-hour limit in one of its car parks in Chelmsford. Mr Beavis refused to pay the charge – which was not really a fine but simply an invoice

Did the £20 million Norwegian’s pay row make BG cheaper for Shell?

Helge Lund was widely expected to go into domestic politics when he ended his successful tenure as head of Statoil, the Norwegian state oil and gas company. Instead, he was hired to run BG Group, the troubled former exploration arm of British Gas, but on a promise of such ludicrously rich terms — up to ten times his Statoil salary — that shareholders, the media and Vince Cable howled in protest. An embarrassed BG board had to scale back the offer, though it remained pretty fat and as I wrote at the time, ‘no mention of Lund, however good he turns out to be, will ever omit a jibe at

Michael O’Leary, my favourite anti-hero

Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has long been an anti-hero of this column. I loved his airline when it was consistently rude to me as a passenger, because it set benchmarks of ruthless punctuality and rock-bottom fares that shook the whole European airline sector. I was suspicious of the idea that, having exhausted other routes to growth, he was going to polish up his customer service and stop ‘unnecessarily pissing people off’; but the new tone is a triumph, and Ryanair’s profit is expected to top €750 million for the current year. ‘If I’d known being nicer to customers was going to work so well,’ O’Leary says, ‘I’d have started many

What British start-ups are still missing

This issue includes the new Spectator Money supplement, in which I hope you’ll find a bouquet of stimulating ideas. The cover piece by the enterprise campaigner Michael Hayman waxes lyrical on the important theme of investing in high-tech start-ups: important because it’s an exciting thing to do with the slice of savings on which you’re happy to take higher risks, but also because bold new businesses hold the key to future growth. At a dinner hosted by Hayman last week, I met a selection of business founders and early-stage investors. The mood was one of optimism in what’s seen as an increasingly benign UK arena for start-ups, buzzing with world-class

Any other business: The £1 bet that built a 1,000-strong company

At a charity lunch in Manchester, I meet a cheerful ‘engagement manager’ from AO.com, formerly Appliances Online, a fast-growing internet seller of fridges and washing machines headquartered at Horwich near Bolton. The job title is new to me: it turns out to mean engaging the company’s workforce in ways that help them enjoy their jobs and feel valued. Their employment package features a £4-a-month ‘healthcare cash plan’ including dentistry, days off for charity work, gym memberships and a 50 per cent subsidy for ‘any social activity our staff fancy, so long as it develops their skills and is done by more than four people’. The emphasis on well-being and fun

Welcome to Ryanair Britain

Which businessman is the most influential in the making of government policy? The answer came to me when I received a letter fining me £80 for forgetting to renew my car insurance by the correct date. But it could also have come to me had I forgotten to fill out of council tax enquiry form (fine £70), missed getting in my tax return by one day (£100), or got caught in a box junction in the King’s Road which has two sets of traffic lights in quick succession (£130). It is, I have come to believe, Michael O’Leary. The Ryanair boss has mastered a business model whereby you lure in

Alexander Chancellor Why can’t we have more public toilets and fewer wheelie-bins?

After a carefree month at my wife’s house in Tuscany — the longest summer holiday I have spent there for maybe 30 years — the return to England this week has proven especially irksome. It is depressing enough to land at any British airport, but Stansted takes the cake. Arriving there after a Ryanair flight from Pisa (in itself a dispiriting experience), I found myself at the end of an enormous queue, so long that its front was indiscernible, and took 40 minutes to reach the desk of an immigration officer. There were literally thousands of people in front of me. Why so many? Why is England so much more