THE waiter in the Balmoral Hotel’s Palm Court reels off the range of teas available, including Edinburgh blend – but Michael O’Leary says: “Just builder’s tea.”
The man who built Ryanair into the world’s biggest airline in terms of international passengers is nothing if not frank and down to earth.
He’s in the Capital to meet business leaders and promote his new three-times-a-day flights between Edinburgh and London Stansted, which start later this month.
But he is happy to talk about a wide range of issues – from independence to trams.
He was pleased with the referendum result. “It makes life a lot easier,” he says, quickly adding that had the vote gone the other way, his business and others “would have adapted”.
He says: “There would have been swings and roundabouts and like most businesses we would have managed our way around them.
“It will be interesting to see what comes now of the promises made by the Westminster parties on devolution – I’m sure there will be some backsliding there. But I think the outcome of the referendum can only be good for Scotland. Scotland will feature a lot higher now in Westminster planning and decision-making.
“They got the fright of their lives. They can no longer take Scotland for granted.”
Mr O’Leary has not tried out Edinburgh’s trams, but he knows the Dublin ones and he is not impressed.
“It’s public transport gone mad,” he says. “When buses provide the same service at a fraction of the price without the disruption, I think relatively small cities like Dublin and Edinburgh could do without vanity projects like tram systems that just choke up all of the traffic.
“Edinburgh had a perfectly functioning traffic system – you could do with more parking in the centre of town, a bit like Dublin – but we’ve spent millions putting in a tram system for a low-rise city with a population base of 1.4 million people and, surprise, surprise, it doesn’t run very well and loses money.
“The cost of digging up the road to put infrastructure in place is incredibly high and I don’t think it’s justified when you see government cutting spending on things like health, schools and services for families under financial pressure.”
So he won’t be taking a tram to the airport? “I’ll be in a taxi like nearly everybody else,” he says.
Mr O’Leary has been working hard to improve Ryanair’s image – and says it is working well.
“We don’t just want to be the ones out at Prestwick being cheap and cheerful. Now we want to also provide much lower price services at the main airports and that requires a different business model from the one we have been pioneering for the last 30 years.
“We’re moving away from being a terrible teenager to some kind of early adulthood, being sensible and less strident in the way we communicate.”
O’Leary on city trams
“CITIES like Dublin and Edinburgh could do without vanity projects like tram systems that just choke up all the traffic. More needs to be done to relieve poverty rather than have ribbon-cutting ceremonies for local politicians with shiny new trams or airports.”