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Pie in the sky: Ryanair boss O'Leary gets cake to the face

September 7, 2023

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary was attacked by environmental activists in Brussels on Thursday, who thrust two cream pies into his face as he sought to petition the EU to act against repeated air traffic control strikes.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary gets hit in the face by cream cakes during a press briefing outside the EU Commission, in Brussels, Belgium September 7, 2023, in this screengrab obtained from a handout video.
O'Leary was in Brussels to protest air traffic controllers' strikes when the environmental protesters intervenedImage: RTL-TVI/REUTERS

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary was made to eat cake in Brussels on Thursday when his one-man protest against repeated air traffic controllers' strikes was interrupted by environmental activists, who thrust two cream pies into his face outside the European Commission.

O'Leary, 62, was preparing for a photo opportunity with a life-size cardboard cut-out of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen before handing over a petition signed by 1.5 million Ryanair customers to "protect our flights" and "keep our skies open."

But while removing the petition and from a cardboard box — the dimensions of which looked as if they wouldn't have passed for hand luggage — an environmental activist hit him in the face with a cream pie while shouting "Welcome in (sic) Belgium!"

As O'Leary ducked in a vain attempt to avoid the blow, a second activist smeared another pie down his neck before both ran off, saying: "Stop the pollution from your ******* planes!"

Ryanair: 'Passengers are celebrating with cake'

The Ryanair boss is embroiled in a long-running battle with air traffic controllers and pilots, whose strikes he says have been leading to disproportionate numbers of flight cancellations, inconveniencing passengers and costing Ryanair substantial sums in compensation.

But the activists had little sympathy. Contrary to reports that they were angry at having been automatically allocated middle seats, their concerns were actually environmental. According to Brussels-based think tank Transport & Environment (T&E), Ryanair carried the most passengers and emitted the most CO2 among airlines operating in Europe in 2022. 

Ryanair, on the other hand, claims 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. With passenger numbers up by more than 20% since before the pandemic, Ryanair says it is planning to operate 12.5% of flights using sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

"The passengers are so happy with our routes and petition that they're celebrating with cake!" quipped the official Ryanair account on X, formerly known as Twitter, responding to O'Leary's experience.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary gets hit in the face by cream cakes during a press briefing outside the EU Commission, in Brussels, Belgium September 7, 2023, in this screengrab obtained from a handout video.
Known for their more informal communication style by the standards of major businesses, Ryanair and O'Leary tried to make light of the incidentImage: RTL-TVI/REUTERS

O'Leary also appeared not to have lost his appetite, saying at subsequent press conference: "I have never had such a warm welcome. Unfortunately, the cream was artificial. I invite passengers to come to Ireland where the cream is better!"

Ryanair facing further pilot strikes

It's not just environmental activists who have been left with a sour taste in their mouths, though, with O'Leary's latest appeal coming as Ryanair pilots based at Brussels-Charleroi airport announced a strike to coincide with the airline's shareholders general meeting on September 14-15 — their fourth stoppage in two months.

The pilots are calling for "an immediate end to the blackmail carried out by the company to correlate the negotiation of a new collective work agreement with the abandonment of all individual legal procedures in progress," and demanding "strict compliance with Belgian law, the payment of arrears and the opening of negotiations without prerequisites."

Belgian authorities have not yet confirmed whether or not the pie protesters have been taken into custody.

mf/msh (AFP, Reuters)