21 Great Quotes From Airline Executives

JetBlue Airways Passengers Board In Long Beach, California
••• Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Here are some terrific quotes—some inspirational and many shockingly candid—from airline industry executives.

  1. "We've been needlessly irritating people, from our creaking old website to our interrogation of passengers over the size of their purses."
    Michael O'Leary, chief executive officer of Ryanair
  2. "If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline."
    Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways
  3. “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
    — Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines
  4. “My mother taught me that your employees come first. If you treat them well, then they treat the customers well, and that means your customers come back, and your shareholders are happy.”
    — Herb Kelleher
  5. "If I’d known being nicer to customers was going to work so well, I’d have done it ages ago."
    — Michael O'Leary
  6. "These days no one can make money on the goddamn airline business. The economics represent sheer hell."
    C.R. Smith, former CEO of American Airlines
  7. "If the Wright brothers were alive today, Wilbur would have to fire Orville to reduce costs."
    — Herb Kelleher
  8. "This is a nasty, rotten business."
    — Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines
  9. "I don't care what you cover the seats with as long as you cover them with assholes."
    — Eddie Rickenbacker, co-founder of Eastern Airlines
  10. "This is the most important aviation development since Lindbergh's flight. In one fell swoop, we have shrunken the earth."
    — Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American Airlines, on jet airplanes
  11. "People who invest in aviation are the biggest suckers in the world."
    — David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways
  12. "If we went into the funeral business, people would stop dying."
    — Martin Shugrue, onetime vice chairman of Pan Am
  13. "I think, historically, the airline business has not been run as a real business—that is, a business designed to achieve a return on capital that is then passed on to shareholders. It has historically been run as an extremely elaborate version of a model railroad—that is, one in which you try to make enough money to buy more equipment."
    — Michael Levine, airline industry executive and regulator
  14. "The airline industry is full of bullshitters, liars, and drunks. We excel at all three in Ireland."
    — Michael O'Leary
  15. "Business opportunities are like buses; there's always another one coming."
    — Sir Richard Branson
  16. "You can't have a midlife crisis in the airline industry because every day is a crisis."
    — Herb Kelleher
  17. "We've done a lot of research on how to make a business succeed, and we are very passionate about this. It's all we think about."
    — Sir Timothy Clark, president of Emirates
  18. "People say the customer is always right, but you know what? They're not. Sometimes they're wrong, and they need to be told so."
    — Michael O'Leary
  19. "You can make a pizza so cheap, nobody will eat it. You can make an airline so cheap, nobody will fly it."
    — Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines
  20. "We're a business-oriented airline. We love all our customers; we just love some more than others, and those are the business travelers."
    — Jeff Smisek, former CEO of United Airlines
  21. "Investing in success is not a crime; blocking competition would be. The dark clouds of protectionism are gathering over Europe and the United States. Five mega-carriers are trying to pull the ladder up after years of having it their own way. The people that will really lose if these giant legacy airlines are successful are the millions of travelers benefitting from new choice in the global air travel market."
    — James Hogan, CEO of Etihad Airways