The head of the leading low-cost airline in Britain lashed out at the government's new airport security measures Friday. He threatened to sue the government if security measures were not restored to the levels in place before the revelation last week of a terrorist plot against U.S.-bound airliners. The heightened security has thrown air traffic into chaos, especially in Britain.
Michael O'Leary, chief executive officer of the popular low-cost European airline Ryanair, said the situation at British airports is still far from normal due to what he called "farcical" new security measures.
"We're still faced with long queues [lines] at security at the British airports," he said. "We're still delayed with farcical, Keystone Cops-like security measures which add nothing whatsoever to security, are completely ineffectual in our adding to or improving security, and are just serving to block up the airports and to delay the airlines' operations."
The outspoken airline chief threatened to sue the government for lost revenue unless security measures are returned within seven days to the level at which they were before the discovery of an alleged plot to blow up several U.S.-bound airliners.
After the plot was disclosed, British authorities imposed stringent new measures, including a ban on all hand luggage and body searches of all passengers. Many flights were delayed or canceled and passengers found themselves stranded.
O'Leary says he agrees with the government action, but faults authorities for not calling out police and army troops to help with the newly mandated body searches.
"In many respects the airports were only able to function as badly as they did because the larger airlines in Britain like British Airways, like Ryanair, canceled up to 30 percent of our flight operations, stranding thousands of passengers," he said. "In so doing, the government gave some of these terrorists, lunatics, and fanatics an undeserved public relations victory."
The hand baggage ban hit Ryanair particularly hard. Started in 1985, it is a no-frills carrier offering budget-minded vacationers very cheap flights to 362 destinations in 22 European countries. The airline keeps costs low by encouraging passengers to only bring carry-on luggage and charges them for any checked baggage.
Authorities have relaxed the rules somewhat, allowing one small briefcase-sized carry-on bag and carrying out slightly fewer searches. O'Leary called on the government to return to the prior allowance of a small wheeled carry-on bag, saying the size of a bag has no effect on security.
Asked to respond to the Ryanair chief, the Department for Transport issued a written statement saying that the current security regime is necessary because of the threat. It said it would not compromise security and that while the measures are kept under constant review, no change in those measures is anticipated within the next seven days.