Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary no stranger to controversy

A Ryanair plane
A Ryanair plane

Embattled Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has a knack for finding his way out of a jam.

In 2003, frustrated at being caught in traffic in his native Westmeath, Ireland, the outspoken businessman registered his Mercedes as a taxi, allowing him to avoid the gridlock and zip through the restricted access bus lanes instead.

His latest predicament, however, may yet prove his most difficult to fix.

Ryanair, the Dublin-based no-frills carrier, faces a compensation bill of up to 20 million euros (£17.7 million) for the flight cancellations "mess" which has left many passengers stranded.

Reputation-wise, both he and the firm have suffered a significant blow across the bows.

The cancellation fiasco, affecting around 2% of flights, was described by the chief executive as a self-inflicted "mess-up" caused by a backlog of pilots taking overdue annual leave.

Typical of the outspoken boss's desire to spin his way out of a corner, O'Leary insisted the firm was "not short of pilots".

The flamboyant entrepreneur is no stranger to controversy, his open and frank press conferences often peppered with off-the-cuff remarks.

Plans to charge for using the toilet mid-flight, allowing mobile phones on board, and - announced this month - ending its policy of allowing non-priority passengers to have two items of hand luggage have courted attention.

But his outlandish ideas have only appeared to further inflate O'Leary's ego and playful nature, having previously compared himself to "the Messiah" and saying that people see him as "Jesus, Superman, or an odious little shit".

He has admitted to being a "Neanderthal" and a climate change denier, while he also believes men are "bloody irrelevant" in the delivery room - though he has also claimed to be "misunderstood".

His latest PR disaster, however, may have much greater side effects than price hike plans or baggage restrictions.

"Clearly there's a large reputational impact, for which again I apologise. We will try to do better in future," he said.

The PR storm surrounding the flight cancellations has prompted renewed calls for O'Leary to quit - something he has steadfastly refused to do when quizzed on the subject.

He has previously acknowledged his own longevity, telling the Westmeath Examiner in 2009 that he expected to stand down by the time he was "50/51".

Five years past that expiry date, O'Leary remains in the thick of the action more than ever before.