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INTERVIEW-O'Leary says no radical overhaul of Ryanair culture

Conor Humphries
Friday, 1 Nov 2013 | 10:12 AM ET

* O'Leary says 'no grand transformation' planned

* Says bulk of customer service changes already announced

* Says airline to benefit from falling costs

DUBLIN, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Budget airline Ryanair has no plans to radically overhaul the way it is managed and has already unveiled most of the promised customer service improvements in an effort to improve its image, Chief Executive Michael O'Leary told Reuters.

The charismatic but often outspoken O'Leary has said he wants to overhaul an "abrupt culture" at Europe's biggest airline, famous for its no-frills service and extra charges that have annoyed many flyers.

Having said in September he took responsibility for the impact of "personal character deformities" on how the company was managed, O'Leary now says that comment was tongue in cheek.

The revamp, he said, would not go significantly beyond the overhaul of its website and a series of fee cuts announced in recent weeks.

"There's no grand transformation," said O'Leary, who has been regularly accused of treating customers, staff and regulators in an abrasive manner.

"I don't understand why ... there is this kind of impression we have had some Pauline conversion here to customer service," he said, referring to commentators comparing his comments at Ryanair's annual meeting with the biblical conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus.

"We have always had brilliant customer service."

Since the AGM, Ryanair has addressed major gripes by halving the cost of checking bags, slashing the fee for reprinting boarding passes and allowing a small second carry-on bag for free.

It also rolled out a major overhaul of its website to cut pop-ups and a security puzzle that customers had to complete to prove they were not automated users trawling the site.

But O'Leary has continued his trademark use of bad language and jibes at customers, joking on Twitter that he would break a customer's ankle if she didn't fly again soon with Ryanair and saying the airline's planes were powered by his "bulls**t".

And the airline has since started legal action against a pilot group fighting for union recognition, the latest in a stream of court cases that have also targeted media and regulators.

Asked if the drive to become nicer might include fewer court cases and better treatment of staff, he rejected the idea that Ryanair needed to change.

"We've always been nicer," he said. "We've always offered people lower fares than any other airline."

On Monday Ryanair is due to announce first-half results after saying in September it would miss its annual profit target, its first profit warning in a decade.

O'Leary said some people appeared, however, to be underestimating a series of cost reductions on profitability, including expected falls in fuel prices and deals with London's Stansted airport and Warsaw's Modlin.

"People are missing very significant cost reductions coming through," he said.

A company poll of analysts is forecasting a profit of 605 million euros in the six months to September.

(Editing by Will Waterman)

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