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Ryanair plane flies through a storm
Reuters/Phil Noble
Headwinds.
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Already struggling with staff strikes, Ryanair’s passengers are now revolting too

By Rosie Spinks

Ryanair has had a rough few days. This morning, the low-cost carrier reported a 7% drop in profit for the first half of its fiscal year, blaming the dip on rising fuel prices, excess capacity, and a spate of strikes. It was the weakest start to the airline’s financial year since 2015.

The airline has been beset by strikes in recent months—particularly during its crucial summer travel period—including those by European air traffic control as well as its own crew. Last December, the airline agreed to recognize labor unions, and says it is hoping to reach agreements with all of its remaining major trade unions by the end of year. Until it does, more industrial action of the kind that saw 250 flights cancelled in late September—affecting 40,000 passengers—cannot be ruled out.

And now, it’s not just its crew that are revolting. Calls for a boycott of Europe’s largest budget airline are circulating in social media thanks to the airline’s mishandling of a racist passenger on a flight from Barcelona to London on Friday (Oct. 19). A white man was filmed hurling racist abuse at an elderly black woman seated next to him. Rather than deplaning the passenger or asking him to move, the woman was reportedly given another seat. Cabin crew appeared to placate the man, rather than point out what he was doing was unacceptable.

The airline tweeted a statement yesterday saying they had reported the incident to Essex police, but has not responded further.

That being said, Ryanair’s share price is up today, as analysts expected them to be even worse. And the airline reported passenger growth of 6% in the six months to September, a pace it expects to keep up for the rest of the fiscal year. CEO Michael O’Leary is not necessarily optimistic about the months ahead, but he thinks rivals are in even worse shape.

The bare-bones budget airline expects to continue to cut fares in the coming quarters, testing whether the outrage—be it about canceled flights or blatant racism onboard—will have a meaningful impact on the company’s direction of travel. If research into consumer behavior is any indication, a cheap ticket can cover a lot of sins. That, after all, is what has allowed Ryanair to become one of the world’s largest airlines while few people claim to love it.