Nov. 8, 2012 at 5:49 PM ET
The colorful, attention-loving chief of Ryanair is at it again. The same CEO who suggested installing pay toilets on planes is now revisiting the idea of standing-room-only sections on flights and dissing the safety feature fliers use most.
“Seat belts don't matter,” Michael O’Leary told The Telegraph. “If there ever was a crash on an aircraft, God forbid, a seat belt won’t save you.”
O’Leary is reportedly on a quest to take out the back ten rows of seats on planes so that Ryanair could offer tickets for one pound (about $1.60) to budget travelers willing to spend a flight on their feet in a “standing cabin.” The Irish airline is already known for its rock-bottom fares and extensive menu of fees for everything from early boarding to excess baggage.
What about the safety of passengers not buckled in? O’Leary told the paper they could just “hang on to the handle” when necessary and would be “fine,” adding that there’s little turbulence in Europe to worry about. People traveling by subway or train don’t wear seat belts, he pointed out.
"The problem with aviation is that for 50 years it's been populated by people who think it's this wondrous sexual experience; that it's like James Bond and wonderful and we'll all be flying first class when really it's just a ... bus with wings,” O’Leary told The Telegraph.
"If you say to passengers it's £25 for the seat and £1 for the standing cabin, I guarantee we will sell the standing cabin first.”
Don’t count on such a cabin ever showing up on any airline in any part of the world, said Todd Curtis, a former Boeing engineer and founder of AirSafe.com.
“What (O’Leary) was saying about getting rid of seat belts is a non-starter, it’s not realistic, it’s not going to be acceptable to the regulatory authorities,” Curtis told NBC News, adding that he got a chuckle out of O’Leary’s comments.
Seat belts keep passengers safe during turbulence, which can strike unexpectedly and can even happen when the sky appears to be clear, the Federal Aviation Administration says. About 58 people are injured in such bumpy rides each year in the United States while not buckled in, according to government statistics.
The FAA requires fliers to have their seat belts fastened when the plane leaves the gate, as it climbs after take-off, during landing and taxi, and whenever the seat belt sign is illuminated during flight. Airlines also often recommend that you stay buckled in at all times, because you never know when something will happen, Curtis added.
Turbulence isn't always the culprit: In 2008, dozens of passengers were hurt when a computer malfunction sent a Qantas flight into a sudden dive, Curtis pointed out.
Then, there’s the issue of O’Leary’s hypothetical standing-room-only section being located in the back of the plane, which is usually the bumpiest section of the cabin, boosting the chances of passengers losing their balance or falling down, Curtis said.
So while O’Leary may be right that flying has become less glamorous and more routine, air travel safety requirements remain the same, he added.
“The basic conditions under which aircraft fly haven’t changed,” Curtis said. “The need for (seat belts) won’t change.”
O’Leary is known for saying or suggesting controversial things that get lots of publicity for Ryanair. In September, he called passengers who fail to print their Ryanair boarding passes “stupid.”
In 2010, O’Leary suggested getting rid of co-pilots on planes to save money. Then, of course, there was the idea of charging passengers one euro to use the lavatory on flights lasting 60 to 90 minutes.
In 2009, the airline also brought up the notion of collecting a “fat tax” from overweight passengers.
None of those ideas have been implemented.
Despite Ryanair's penny-pinching ways and the outrage it often causes, the airline attracts lots of customers. Earlier this month, it reported a 10 percent growth in profits and a 7 percent boost in passengers for the six-month period that ended in September.