Belfast Telegraph

Forgive Ryanair the cancelled flights - it has helped to bring democracy to the skies above

It's often reviled, says Fionola Meredith, but the airline allows people to travel who otherwise simply couldn't afford it

Three cheers for Ryanair, the airline of the people. Or maybe better make that two cheers, after Ryanair abruptly announced it was going to cancel 40 to 50 flights a day for the next six weeks due to having "messed up" its planning of pilot holidays. The roar from irate passengers was as loud as a Boeing 737 taking off.

There's no doubt that Ryanair has seriously angered, stressed and inconvenienced a great many customers through their own apparent ineptitude. The old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity, on which the company seems to have traded for many years, is being tested to its absolute limits.

That brash, blunt, who-gives-a-monkeys attitude is personified by the Ryanair boss, Michael O'Leary. But even he was looking a bit sheepish this time. There was a sharp dive in the value of the company's shares, and the compensation bill looks like it will come to €20m, maybe more. Social media is jammed with people declaring that they will never, ever fly with the airline again.

But you know what? I'm still cheering for Ryanair. Because its sheer cheapness has allowed me, and millions of others, to take trips we could never previously afford, and to see parts of the world we might never have reached.

Air travel used to belong solely to the seriously well-off. But budget airlines have democratised the skies, opening up the possibility of foreign travel for a fraction of the price of a wet weekend in Newcastle.

Sure, I complain about Ryanair with the best of them. It's practically a national sport. The plasticky garishness of the planes is what bugs me most - that awful, lurid navy and yellow combination - and then there's the fact the seats don't recline, and there's no net on the seat in front to put your stuff, and they always seem to be looking for ways to squeeze another few euro out of you. And of course there's that raucous, self-satisfied fanfare they parp out when you reach your destination on time.

It all makes me long for the civilised delights of airlines like Aer Lingus, where the seats go back beautifully and even have mouldable head-rests so you can snooze, and - best of all - there's often a posse of matronly air staff who could handle any unexpected emergency, up to and including inflight Armageddon.

But still I come back to Ryanair. They get me where I want to go more than any other airline and they generally get me there on time. What more can you ask for?

Even the hucksterish pushing of scratchcards and the like is easier to tolerate when you remember that it's precisely these extras that generate the revenue to keep your own ticket price low. Just put your headphones on and shut your eyes. You won't be able to sleep because you're sitting bolt upright in a horrible yellow-trimmed chair, but never mind. Isn't it worth it, in order to stroll the streets of Paris or Berlin?

Don't listen to environmental bores who like to guilt you about the frequent flying that airlines like Ryanair enable more and more people to do. If the emissions-worriers and joy-deniers won't travel any further than the ferry to Cairnryan or Holyhead, let them get on with it. Let them mooch around in their damp woolly jumpers, feeling superior on their virtuous stay-cation. It'll make your own sunshine holiday taste all the sweeter.

Hiding behind a lot of the loudly-expressed disgust with Ryanair is, I think, a contempt for the travelling masses, and for mass tourism in general. It's not the airline itself that revolts these snobbish, middle-class types, it's the people flying on it. They don't want to share a plane with an extended family off for a week of pints and paella in Alicante, or with a stag or hen party en route to Budapest or Bratislava.

The fact is that many of the people complaining about the company could easily fly with more expensive airlines but choose to go Ryanair because it's cheap and they like the idea of a bargain. For the less well-off, however, Ryanair and other no-frills airlines are their only option - it's all they can afford.

If I was affected by this flurry of cancellations, I'd be raging. But the airline was part of an aviation revolution that allowed more people than ever the freedom to fly and that really is something to celebrate. Next time I'm on board a flight, I'll raise a plastic cup of over-priced fizzy wine. To Ryanair, and all who sail in her.

Belfast Telegraph

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