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Ryanair Boss Gets Pied in the Face in Brussels

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary got a rude welcome in Brussels today when he received two cream pies to the face while standing next to a cardboard cutout of EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The pies were landed by two women environmental activists as Michael O’Leary was holding a one-man protest outside the European Commission against repeated air traffic controllers’ strikes in the EU impacting his low-cost airline, Europe’s biggest by passenger numbers.

“Welcome in Belgium,” said one of the activists as she planted her pie, according to video of the scene broadcast by Belgian news channels LN24 and RTL Info.

“Stop the pollution” from planes said the other activist as she smeared her pastry on Mr O’Leary before both walked off.

The Ryanair chief, who regularly courts publicity, laughed off the stunt, calmly telling an assistant to take his soiled jacket away to be cleaned.

Ryanair’s feed on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, later posted that O’Leary got a “warm welcome in Brussels”.

“Passengers so happy with our routes and petition that they’re celebrating with cake,” it said.

The activists’ pie protest came as Ryanair pilots in Belgium announced a new strike on September 14 and 15 – their fourth stoppage in two months – over pay and working conditions.

Ryanair is Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers and is flying over 20% more passengers than it did before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brussels-based think tank Transport & Environment (T&E) estimates Ryanair emitted 13.3 million tonnes of CO2 in 2022.

Ryanair says it is one of the most efficient airlines in the world due to the large number of passengers it fits into its aircraft and the low number of empty seats. It plans to fly 12.5% of flights using sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

O’Leary, who is group chief executive, later joked about the protest. “My only complaint was that the cream was artificial and not tasty,” he told a news conference.

Meanwhile, Michael O’Leary is “very pleased” with the strength of bookings for September and into October and thinks a rebound in travel from Asia will help keep European ticket prices high next summer, he told Reuters in an interview earlier today.

Michael O’Leary said he was concerned about the price of oil but that it was impossible to say if it would impact the profit outlook for the year at Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers.

“We’re very pleased with the strength of bookings into September and October,” Mr O’Leary said. “We’re on track to get to about 183-184 million passengers so we’re continuing to run about 20-23% ahead of our pre-Covid numbers.

“We did a 96% load factor (in August), carried 18.9 million passengers, we would have hit 19 million if it wasn’t for the UK ATC failure,” O’Leary said, referring to an air traffic control meltdown in late August.

A load factor of 96% means an average of 4% seats were not filled during the month.

He said he had seen a “very strong rebound” in non-leisure travel to lower-wage parts of central, east and south Europe, which he attributed to small European manufacturers replacing suppliers from Asia as part of a “nearshoring” boom.

Michael O’Leary also said Ryanair had hedged 85% of its fuel needs until the end of its fiscal year in March 2024.

“And we’re now about 40% hedged for the first half of FY 25. So the April to September period of 2024 is now about 40% hedged at about $74 a barrel. We continue to be hedged well below current spot prices,” he said.

“We’ll continue to be concerned – air travel in Asia is recovering strongly. That should also help traffic across Europe in the summer of 2024. But it’ll mean that demand for jet oil will probably rise,” he added.

Source: RTE News