THIS is the picture that gives the title to an expose of cut-price airline Ryanair.
The woman slumped across two seats was one of a number of exhausted members of cabin crew filmed fast asleep instead of working during flights. Amazingly, this woman would have been one of the cabin crew charged with helping passengers in the event of an inflight emergency.
A string of safety and other issues are highlighted in tonight’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Ryanair Caught Napping.
A pilot too terrified to tell bosses he’s tired for fear of being sacked or demoted is quoted as is a member of staff filmed splashing aftershave on vomit left in a row of seats rather than either clearing it up or closing the row of seats.
Ryanair Caught Napping also contains claims that one flight flew with a faulty Global Positioning System while another took off despite having a faulty emergency exit. The 8pm programme is the culmination of five months investigation by two undercover journalists posing as cabin crew.
They claim they found a staff culture in Ryanair that had a “somewhat dismissive” attitude towards customers which seemed to be based on the premise that if a customer pays next to nothing for a ticket they should expect nothing.”
For example, when asked by one of the reporters whether life-jackets get checked, a member of the crew on one flight flatly replies “no”. And they can be heard adding: “If you pay one pence for your ticket . . . don’t expect to see a life jacket underneath your sea.”
All the claims made by Dispatches are hotly refuted by airline boss Michael O’Leary.
Ireland on Sunday reported yesterday how O’Leary answered each claim by the programme makers on the airline’s website.
He said: “We have received a series of untrue and unsubstantiated claims which (Channel 4) have failed to support with any evidence.
“Ryanair has nothing to hide and has comprehensively dealt with all of the written allegations put to the airline by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme.”
As well as accusing the programme makers of using of underhand and reckless tactics, he slammed various claims made in the programme as “complete fabrication and nonsense” and accused the TV channel of “attempting to hide the truth.”
A Channel 4 spokeswoman told the Irish Daily Mail last night: “We stand by our programme 100 per cent. The video footage that is used speaks for itself, regardless of what Mr O’Leary says about us.
“The undercover footage reveals what takes place behind the scenes: security lapses, dirty aircrafts, pilots complaining about the hours they have to fly and exhausted cabin crew.
“We would be more than happy to hand over the file we have on Ryanair to any aviation authority that wishes to investigate this matter further.”
The programme also shows a sequence in which passport checks are discussed. Amazingly, despite heightened concerns all over the world about terrorism, a senior member of staff told one of the reporters that a passport check effectively amounted to just making sure the passenger had one.
They are filmed telling the reporter: “We are full all day. So when I let you know, you go and you board.
“And you board straight away, there’s not waiting, you board, you’ve got 25 minutes to do it. You’re checking have they got the right flight number on the boarding card.
“The gate staff will tell you to check the passports…..but you just make sure they’ve got a passport. It shouldn’t take you all day to do, just rip the boarding cards and you let them through.”
The programme comes amid a string of criticism about working practices at Ryanair. As well as attacks by unions for making trainee staff pay for their uniforms and in-flight meals, the airline’s handling of safety issues has been called into question.
Two incidents last year involving Ryanair pilots are believed to have been among the reasons which prompted the head of the Irish Airline Pilots Association(IALPA) to question the adequacy of Ireland’s air safety procedures.
Earlier this year, Capt Evan Cullen said: “There is no doubt that the safety margins in Irish aviation have been eroded. “The important question is whether we have in place the regulatory oversight system to alert us when the safety margin has been eroded to an unsafe extent.”
He was speaking after Italian authorities attacked Ryanair for delaying an investigation into a series of irregular approaches into Rome last September by the crew of a Ryanair Boeing 737-800.
As a consequence, the investigation was delayed by four months – and O’Leary had to admit his company had “screwed up” over its handling of the affair.
The company’s own report pointed to the crew’s “almost complete loss of situational awareness, both lateral and vertical” and blamed this on a failure by its own pilots to follow standard operating procedures.
In July last year, another Ryanair crew were rapped for carrying out an “an irrational and inexplicable” steep landing approach to Stockholm’s Skavsta airport.
The pilot of the plane – which touched down at 330km/h in an incorrect “configuration” – was found to be suffering from stress, as was one of the pilots involved in the September 2005 incident at Rome.
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