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We all know how great it feels when we find a cheap flight via Ryanair, but are you actually getting what you paid for?

Recently I've heard stories about Ryanair's reputation when it comes to safety procedures. I heard that most of the time they ignore the safety procedures required by law to operate a flight. Since they're a budget airline, they keep turnarounds under 25 minutes, and there have been reports that this is putting passengers in danger.

Mostly I'm referring to the statements made in the terrifyingly scary documentary shown on Channel 4 about two undercover reporters who show safety and health procedures being ignored, and exhausted cabin crew complaining about the number of hours they are forced to work, and negative experiences they had with the airline.

Another scary moment in the video, is when the instructor tells the class that passengers seating in 1A, will most definitely die if there is any sort of incident where the aircraft collides, as there is some metal rod that can shoot through the passenger's skull.

Also see a Guardian article.

How safe is it to actually travel with this airline, how are such practices not enforced by the law, and routinely checked?

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Slightly off topic answer (would comment bug don have enough reputation on this site yet): To give some ball park figures, to put things in perspective (taken from my radiation safety lectures in Uni): The risk of dieing in an airline accident is less than one in a million per 1000 miles travelled Where travelling 100 miles in a car has about the same risk.* So chances are you have a greater risk driving to the air port than the actual flight. *So does one Chest X-ray or each day being over 60 –  DarcyThomas Nov 6 '13 at 21:40
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The only objective way to answer this question is with a ratio of deaths or injuries per traveler miles. @KateGregory's answer addresses this. But that does not seem to be the type of answer the OP is looking for, as evidenced by both the inflammatory language of the question, and the fact that a less objective answer (although not a bad one) was accepted. This question seems to me to be a rant about RyanAir, and not an honest question. Such a rant may well be deserved, but is not appropriate here. –  Flimzy Nov 7 '13 at 2:11
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It is an honest question, since I very often travel with Ryanair, and I want to know what I'm getting myself into :) –  Scorpion Nov 7 '13 at 7:56

5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The number of fatalities caused by a certain airline does NOT reflect how safe that airline is. The number of fatalities can be very high due to a single accident which is caused by reasons not related to the safety of the airline in question.

Usually people tend to think of safety only when it comes to airplanes, this is wrong. The safety of an airline is much more than that, it is embedded in every single thing, it is more of a culture than just a bunch of policies and procedures.

In general, I would rather fly in a twenty-year-old Ryanair airplane than in a one-year-old plane in an African airline. Why is that? EU civil authorities have very strict policies and procedures, lately they've even started forcing the new safety principle called SMS (Safety Management System) which simply involves all parts of the airlines in the safety, including the higher management since the first principle of this system is to put the liability and responsibility on the higher management instead of just blaming some employee when something happens under (human error).

Also, the random checks conducted by the EU authorities are a pain in the ass to all airlines, they are brutal and serious. They will have no problem issuing all kinds of punishments if they have a finding, including suspending the airline. I personally deal with this stuff in my job and I know how good they are.

Talking of crew duty hours, just to let you know, as a crew member for long time I met a lot of crew members from all over the world, we all have the same complaint (duty hours). It is a universal thing for crew members to complain about. That's due to the anti-routine schedules where crew members have to work weekends and holidays and nights etc. But AFAIK, in EU crew members can not exceed 100 credit hours per month, and that's even less than in the US or the middle east where crew members can fly up to 120 credit hours.

One more thing, crew members who fly for domestic or regional airlines, such as Ryanair, tend to complain more about working hours because they need more flights to reach the 100 credit hours, unlike flying for international airlines, where you can make the same amount of credit hours in 4 or 5 long-haul flights. When I first joined I needed like forty domestic legs to reach 70 hours, but once I had enough seniority I could make the same by flying three flights to the US only!

Bottom line, EU civil authorities are the best when it comes to the safety of different airlines, either the EU ones or the foreign ones that fly to the EU. So, having permission to operate in the EU is enough proof that the airline is safe enough. This is my opinion as a safety person.

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+1 for all the relevant information and the insider's insights but isn't the (expected) number of fatalities per unit (passenger, km) exactly what safety is, by definition? The only thing is that our empirical estimate of this fatality rate is very unreliable because fatalities are so rare and “lumpy”, which is why we have to rely on indirect things like policies and procedures to assess it. The point is that having no fatalities over a significant period is not evidence that the airline is better than others but it still shows that safety is at least not disastrously low. –  Relaxed Nov 8 '13 at 11:07
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@Annoyed the less fatalities is the goal, not the definition. It really doesn't matter, for example, Saudi airlines has around 400 fatalities because of a single accident (the mid-air collision) which is caused by the ATC. So can you judge the safety of that airlines but the 400 fatalities? the safety is measured by compliance to safety policies and by the safety awareness of that airlines. –  MeNoTalk Nov 8 '13 at 11:21
    
@HaLaBi: I was sure that accident was attributed to the crew of the Kazakh plane, though if the Indian airport had more modern equipment it could have been prevented. –  hippietrail Nov 10 '13 at 3:15

While I wouldn't dismiss safety procedures as unnecessary, you know very well that you will not automatically be hurt if an airline ever skimps on one. According to Wikipedia, Ryanair has had exactly one "incident and accident" in its entire history.

Two crew members and eight passengers were taken to hospital with minor injuries

That's it. Any airline you have heard of has had more, and has had fatalities. I would have a lot of reasons for avoiding Ryanair (constant vigilance to avoid sneaky fees; bad customer service; drunken fellow passengers who want only the cheapest possible flight) but believing the plane might crash, or that a crash would somehow be worse on Ryanair because of decisions they've made about turnarounds, maintenance or what planes to buy would absolutely not be the reason I avoid them.

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I do see your point, but if you see the whole documentary you would see more of what makes me uncomfortable –  Scorpion Nov 4 '13 at 22:47
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Documentaries are sensationalized. But all Western airlines are regulated to death, and Ryanair is included -- they're Europe's biggest airline after all, so if they were actually unsafe, there'd be planes dropping out of the sky all the time now. –  jpatokal Nov 4 '13 at 23:00
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Depends what you consider an accident or an incident I suppose. eg, avherald.com/h?search_term=ryanair&dosearch=1 I would especially suggest reading avherald.com/h?article=45c27245 and ask yourself if any other airline would have carried out the return flight without determining the cause of the problem –  Doc Nov 8 '13 at 2:43

The European Aviation Safety Rules are quite strict and non-compliance will quickly get you grounded or banned (if you are a non-EU carrier) from European skies.

While there may be some trivial difference in overall safety between airlines that comply with these rules, any airline that is in compliance is far safer to travel with than driving.

If Ryanair was in non-compliance it would have had its planes grounded a long time ago. These rules are not just on the books, they are actively enforced, including surprise inspections of planes. Given the stories cited in the question, it is highly probable that Ryanair has been given extra scrutiny as a result. Since they are still flying, there can not have been anything seriously amiss.

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+1 for refering to EU airline blacklist. –  mouviciel Nov 7 '13 at 8:39

Documentaries are irrelevant since the airline has had a long track record of safe flight. According to Wikipedia, there was only one (non-fatal) incident and it was due to bird strikes damaging the engines. This is actually quite impressive considering they're one of Europe's biggest airlines by number of aircraft.

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I've watched the documentary, I should note that it's several years old (2006 if I'm reading the roman numerals at the end right), EU regulations have changed since then and much of what they talk about is not directly safety related. Ryanair can not care about their customers (getting there, being happy, etc) -- as long as the care about the overall safety of the customers. There have been more recent documentaries, and court cases, etc -- here's Ryanair's response to the most recent: http://www.ryanair.com/en/news/ryanair-releases-channel-4-dispatches-letters

I can't read the Times article the Guardian one references as it's behind a pay wall but I'd wonder if the term 'dangerous' is actually in the initial report, or has been added by the newspapers -- there's nothing to say that particular approach was dangerous, it may have been unusual or illegal for noise reasons (which maybe why the co-pilot recommended to go around) but there's no clear evidence it was outright dangerous. Additionally, why are pilots going to attempt something dangerous when their own life is at stake?

It may be true that Ryanair cuts things as close as possible, but that's to maximize profits. The worst possible thing for their profits would be a serious incident or safety breach -- the people running Ryanair are smart enough to know that. Similarly they have to comply with the regulations, a serious breach would ground planes and hurt profits.

I think the documentary picks up on some small points and sensationalizes them, you're likely as safe on a Ryanair flight as anything else. Many of the points they make are just par for the course with budget airlines -- i.e. being stranded in the middle of nowhere -- you pays your money, you takes your choice. But I think you're just risking your comfort and sanity -- not your safety.

As pointed out above, despite all of this Ryanair has a good safety record (and they fly a ton of flights). They will be being independently audited by everywhere they fly.

Final note -- that documentary had it's undercover reporters working for Ryanair for 5 1/2 months each. Almost a full year to gather maybe 20 minutes of the worst footage they could. There may have been a lot of cherry-picking in there, I wonder how many examples of good service, good safety -- or just generally adequate -- got left on the cutting room floor ...

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“Additionally, why are pilots going to attempt something dangerous when their own life is at stake?” This happens in many lines of work, for various reasons. Without getting into extreme example, working as a roof tiler is much more dangerous than many other occupations, yet people do it and even go around some safety procedures while doing it. I am not saying, the risks are huge but the fact that the pilot's own life is at stake certainly does mean they would not do something slightly more risky. –  Relaxed Nov 5 '13 at 9:02
    
@Annoyed, yeah -- I do realize that. And I realize that some pilots spoke out precisely because of that (although the Ryanair response makes it look like they have a vested interest). And people make mistakes, errors of judgement, etc. Yeah, I probably should have left that line out of the post. –  SpaceDog Nov 5 '13 at 9:24

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