In a recent interview with The Times, the executive officer suggested that Muslim men should be subjected to further screening at airports because they form a "security threat."
"Who are the bombers? They are going to be single males traveling on their own... You can't say stuff, because it's racism, but it will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion. Thirty years ago, it was the Irish. If that is where the threat is coming from, deal with the threat," he was reported as saying.
O'Leary got one thing right: His words are racist and nonsensical.
When he says screenings and security measures already taken at airports are "completely irrelevant" because they don't target people of a specific religious background, he's basically defining Islamophobia.
The problem is that the CEO is complaining about something that's (unfortunately) already in place at most global airports. Muslims are often subjected to discriminatory and unnecessary checks, yet he believes more needs to be done.
His comments only serve to add to the racist notion implying that terrorism is linked to Islam when it's really not.
A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain responded to O'Leary's remarks, saying he was disappointed that "the CEO of a large airline would so want to discriminate against his customers so brazenly."
O'Leary's ridiculous suggestion also led to intense backlash on social media, with thousands calling on people to boycott Ryanair via a now-viral hashtag.
Many were understandably angered by words that are not only hurtful and offensive but also based on a generalization that has nothing to do with the truth which is that terrorism has no religion.
Many called on people to boycott O'Leary's airline
"I & my family have to endure 'extra security checks' routinely"
Because racial profiling at airports is unacceptable
This is "the very definition of Islamophobia"
"How do CEOs of companies get away with blatant racism?"
O'Leary has since apologized but that isn't enough
Amid the backlash and calls for boycott, Ryanair disputed The Times' interview.
"The headline in today's paper is simply inaccurate," a statement issued by the airline and sent to Euronews read.
"No call for extra checks on any group or persons was made. Michael was only calling for more effective airport security checks which would do away with much of the unnecessary queues at airport security today for all passengers," it added.
The company explained that O'Leary "apologizes sincerely for any offense caused." But that's not enough because he didn't retract any of his words. Instead, the airline played around with what they meant when the quote taken directly from his interview was pretty clear.
Discrimination against Muslim travelers is still a thing in 2020
The discrimination against Muslim flyers at airports and on flights is so bad there's a phrase for it: "Flying While Muslim."
The term came to be following countless Islamophobic incidents that have occurred on planes and at airports in recent years. It's a reflection of how people of Islamic faith are being singled out for interrogation and uncalled for searches at airports around the world; some are often forced off planes for no reason at all.
In 2016, an Iraqi student was removed from a Southwest Airline flight for saying "Inshallah" while on the phone with his uncle before departure. That same year, two Muslim women were thrown off an American Airlines aircraft because a flight attendant felt "unsafe" in their presence.
Last year, an American Airlines flight was canceled after a Muslim man "flushed the toilet twice" before takeoff.