Flights and Fights: Inside Low Cost Airlines

Thu Jun 20, 9-10pm, BBC2

The budget-airline phenomenon is a good thing. It’s opened up the world for the less well off. It’s shaken up a complacent industry. It’s whisked stag parties away from our shores. But it’s also encouraged us to fly more when we should, environmentally speaking, be flying less. It’s lowered our expectations of how what constitutes acceptable customer service. And it’s brought to prominence Michael O’Leary, a man who has somehow finessed his meanness and lack of charm into a promotional campaign for his company, Ryanair.

O’Leary’s astounding parsimony (he once failed in an attempt to withdraw free Ryanair flights for one customer who won ‘free Ryanair flights for life’) certainly plays its part in making this Sandi Toksvig-narrated documentary so compelling. But the rise of low-cost airlines is a fascinating one regardless: how a combination of opportunism, ingenious branding and an obsession with the bottom line can reap massive financial rewards even as the moral high-ground is vacated.

Impressively upbeat ground staff and flight crew are interviewed, but so too are many of the key players, notably O’Leary, Easyjet founder Stelios, and Barbara Cassani, creator of short-lived BA offshoot Go. Although it doesn’t say much for her local that she compares Ryanair with ‘a flying pub – chaotic and dehumanising’.