CORRECTION: In "Is This Any Way to Run an Airline?" (Enterprise, Oct. 4), we reported that Ryanair claimed its average ticket is priced "570 percent lower than British Airways'." In fact, Ryanair claimed that British Airways' average fare is 570 percent higher.
Byline: Daniel McGinn
Michael O'Leary is sitting in his spartan office on the outskirts of Dublin airport, wearing headphones and crooning along--badly--to the U2 classic "Bad." "If you twist and turn away," he warbles, in a key that makes a visitor wish a jet would roar overhead. The music is coming from a handheld device about the size of an Etch A Sketch. It's a digital media player, equipped with music from 100 CDs and hours of video: cartoons, sitcoms, even first-run movies. Starting next month Ryanair, the no-frills airline O'Leary has turned into an industry darling, will begin renting the devices to passengers for $6 per flight. The plan has all the markings of the strategies Ryanair has made famous. The handheld units are far cheaper than installing the seat-back TVs other airlines use, and renting them gives Ryanair a whole new way to squeeze money from its passengers during flights. Says O'Leary: "We think this is going to be the next really big thing up in the air."
If his track record is any guide, the hyperbole may prove prescient. Over the past decade, O'Leary has reinvented the European airline industry and driven down fares across the continent. While his strategies owe much to Southwest Airlines, the pioneer in low-fare flying in the United States, industry observers credit him with going beyond imitation to find ways to improve on the model.
That's one reason Ryanair's ascent …