BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Environmentalists smeared Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s head with cream pies outside the European Union headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, in a protest over carbon emissions by Europe’s busiest airline.
“Stop the pollution,” a female protester dressed in black shouted after hitting O’Leary in the face with a pie as he was setting up a photo opportunity with a cardboard cutout of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
A second protester hit him in the back of the head with another pie. They did not identify themselves or say if they were representing an organisation.
Ryanair is Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers and is flying over 20% more passengers than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brussels-based think tank Transport & Environment (T&E) estimates Ryanair emitted 13.3 million tonnes of CO2 in 2022, making it the most polluting airline.
Ryanair says it is one of the most efficient airlines in the world due to the large number of passengers it fits into its aircraft and the low number of empty seats. It plans to fly 12.5% of flights using sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.
O’Leary, who is group chief executive, later joked about the protest. “My only complaint was that the cream was artificial and not tasty,” he told a news conference.
O’Leary was in Brussels to present a petition to von der Leyen with 1.5 million signatures demanding that flights be allowed to cross French airspace during air traffic control strikes there.
(Writing by Conor Humphries; Additional reporting by Julia Payne; editing by John Stonestreet)