With so much negative press about him, I was a little apprehensive about facing Michael O'Leary. He'd agreed to meet me for brunch at a stylish bistro in Grafton Street. Despite a hazy mental image of his face, I recognised him the instant he came through the door. The swagger, the expensive suit, the manic eyes: they all announced The Man.
He ordered us both a full Irish breakfast and a selection of cocktails. He looked at me and waited. I took control.
I was warned you're a slippery interviewee - any comment?
Look. I shoot form the hip, that's all. If you can't handle it, go interview someone else. If you want fluff, get Anthea Turner. If you want bollocks, talk to Jonathan Ross.
So I can expect direct and honest answers.
When you recall schooldays, what comes to mind?
Teachers hassling me. "O'Leary, where's your
homework?" "O'Leary, take this letter to your parents." "O'Leary, get down from that scaffolding." That kind of thing.
Not exactly the studious type then.
I wouldn't agree with that. I could handle the academic stuff. The point is I made an informed decision. I had a look at the books and thought "I haven't got time for this shite." My parents were exasperated most of the time. Couldn't understand why I was such a "feckless wastrel", to use my mother's words.
How old were you when you left education?
Fifteen. Actually, fourteen, if you allow for the two months' exclusion. It was a relief. I always had a problem with authority. And rules. And responsibility.
So leaving school at fourteen with no qualifications - that didn't faze you?
On the contrary. By the time I was sixteen, I was running two clubs in Dublin, selling fake Cartier watches in Grafton Street and managing a fleet of taxis from my bedroom at the weekends.
Impressive. I can see how the idea of running an airline might not be so daunting for you.
Exactly. A few planes, a bunch of crew, a map of Europe. How hard could it be?
You've had incredible success with Ryanair. How do you explain it?
Feck knows. I've always had the brass neck to persevere with a project when most other people would abandon it at the first hurdle. If someone says to me "It can't be done", that's like a red rag to a bull.I've sold sand to Saharan tribes and thermal underwear to Moroccan market traders. I don't piss about. Getting a couple of knackered old Boeings into the air? - no problem.
Recent reports say you're about to make further cuts to Ryanair's service. How can you downgrade a "No Frills" flight?
You'd be surprised. And I don't call it 'downgrading.' I call it keeping the punters challenged. We're taking the first six rows of seats out of all aircraft and replacing them with a drinks vending machine and a couple of picnic benches. Research has told us that our passengers refuse to buy the food we sell because it's over-priced and tastes like pig slop. They like to bring their own sandwiches.
Surely fewer seats mean loss of revenue?
No, not at all. We're getting rid of the stewards altogether, so that's a massive saving. I'm not going to throw money away on staff who prat about with a drinks trolley and point to the emergency exits. Our customers can look after themselves.
These are pretty radical moves. Ryanair could lose a lot of business.
Again, you'd be surprised. Regular customers tell us that they like the fact that our flights are unpredictable and overbooked. They expect to land hundreds of miles from where they want to be. It enriches the whole travel experience. In fact, when I'm searching for new destinations, I'm not happy unless the airport is at least 100 miles from the nearest city.
Any other developments you can tell us about?
I'm in early discussions with Megabus. We're looking at providing a budget two-week pilot training course for their top drivers in return for a double-decker for my family. It'll be painted in sixties-style psychedelia and we'll fart about Europe like a load of old hippies.
I can't help thinking that Ryanair customers are being screwed, quite honestly.
That's one way of putting it. Another way is: I'm laughing all the way to my Caribbean island.
Thanks very much, Michael.
There was nothing else to say. Michael paid the bill and had to run. Something about "another fecking online booking crisis."