Who doesn't love an airline bitch-fight? The difference between European airlines and what we generally see in the Asia-Pacific arena is that the Europeans don't wear gloves. I quite enjoy the competitive banter between Australian airlines - particularly Jetstar and Virgin Blue - who always seems to be up for a friendly cat-flight; much of it playing out on the Twitter battlefield. It's all in good fun most of the time and nobody seems to take offence.
In the latest row between two cat-fighting carriers, Ryanair and easyJet (UK's most popular airline? ) are at each other in both the public marketing and courtroom arena over their advertising practices. The latest 'state-of-origin' type bitching started last month when Ryanair (the Irish low, low, low cost airline) published a print and billboard advertisement depicting easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou with a Pinocchio-style long nose. The advert challenges easyJet to publish their on-time-performance figures, suggesting that they're not doing so because they can't compete with Ryanair.
Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's airline CEO and controversial media slut, later claimed that he had been contacted by Haji-Ioannou's solicitors for the "grossly defamatory" claims, suggesting, in part, that he was a "liar". easyJet demanded that Ryanair withdraw their advertised claims and issue a public apology.
easyJet responded in kind via an outdoor advertisement featuring the tagline 'Who loves flying you to the place you actually booked?', implying (quite correctly), that Ryanair flies to airports well outside of the supposed destination city. Under the heading 'Ryanair', the ad said 'Barcelona = Girona, Paris = Beauvais, Milan = Bergamo, Venice = Treviso'. In comparison, under the heading of 'easyJet', the airline claimed 'Barcelona = Barcelona, Paris = Paris, Milan = Milan, Venice = Venice'.
Ryanair complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that Beauvais, Bergamo and Treviso had been officially designated as airports for their corresponding cities by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). They objected to the way easyJet questioned its ability to fly people to their required destinations - stating that the claims were "misleading" and "denigratory". The ASA upheld the complaint.
easyJet UK general manager Paul Simmons said that, "...it is a well-known fact that easyJet flies to major airports whereas Ryanair serves out-of-town airfields which can be a two hour bus ride away from your destination."
In a typical and very juvenile O'Leary response, he has challenged Haji-Ioannou to a 'Chariots of Fire ' style race around Trafalgar Square in what seems like a puerile attempt at perpetuating his dirtbag image and potentially putting an end to likely courtroom costs. He has claimed that he will terminate the Pinocchio-style campaign if he fails to beat the festively-plump easyJet founder... O'Leary making obvious and completely inappropriate reference to the fact that Haji-Ioannou's would unlikely to fit in any of the seats he sells. O'Leary goes on to say that "...if Stelios is too tired [read: unfit, unhealthy and lazy] to run, then I will offer him the alternative of a wheelbarrow race around Trafalgar Square, with the winner taking all". Perhaps if Haji-Ioannou's challenged O'Leary to a boxing match or pie-eating contest the tables would turn on the smug little lepricorn.
O'Leary states, via a press release on the Ryanair website , dated 15th March 2010, that:
"Stelios obviously can't run, but he can't hide either. Like all spoilt children, he laps up the attention of being Mr easyJet, but he can't take the criticism, even when in this case it's valid. easyJet's website claims that punctuality is a top priority, and claims that they publish their punctuality figures weekly, yet easyJet has failed to publish them for 44 weeks in a row since 26th April 2009 last. When challenged on this shocking failure, Stelios bleats on about libel, instead of doing the simple thing and calling on easyJet to resume publishing their lousy punctuality statistics. Since Stelios controls the Easy brand and effectively controls easyJet, it's clear that this glaring difference between what the easyJet website promises and what easyJet actually does is sanctioned and supported by Stelios, the public face of easyJet.
"It's time for Stelios to admit that neither he nor his airline can compete with Ryanair on prices, on punctuality or in a sumo wrestling bout in Trafalgar Square either. I believe that "gutless" Stelios should take up my challenge, and settle this dispute with either a race or Sumo bout. If he is really worried about it, I will give him a head start or a big weight advantage, but I suspect like his airline, he knows he can't compete with Ryanair on price, on punctuality or at Sumo either."
I look forward to the ongoing banter between both airlines. I hope easyJet are fully aware that Ryanair don't give a hoot about their rubbish brand and that they will do anything at all costs for any publicity - good or bad - to get their dirty name in the media. They are a great example of how an airline can treat customers, employees and the general public with contempt, yet still be hugely successful. They are the quintessential anti-brand.
As a disclaimer, I flew easyJet a number of years ago and had one of the worst flying experience of my life (Ryanair wasn't any better). I don't know if it was the vomit stained seat or the bottle of water that cost me nearly as much as my ticket. I think the airline is a seedy stain on the underpants of aviation and O'Leary is the baboon that put it there.