EasyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou wished his arch rival Michael O'Leary "the best of luck" as part of a candid keynote speech which compared easyJet with Ryanair.
Speaking at the World Low Cost Airlines Congress in Barcelona, Stelios claimed that the easyJet model is "more resilient, safer and lower risk" than Ryanair's. He said risk is a key factor for investors, which might put them off Ryanair's high growth, passenger number-boosting strategy.
"I am a lot happier I am a shareholder in easyJet and happier with their strategy. I wish Michael the best of luck," he said.
Far from lambasting Ryanair, Stelios credited O'Leary and Southwest for their roles in creating the low-cost phenomenon and for Ryanair's innovation on baggage charges. "Michael was the first to charge for the first bag and we followed. There is nothing wrong with following something which worked."
But, while easyJet and Ryanair watch one another very closely, there are some things which easyJet will not be duplicating. "There is only so much you can push through. My personal view if Michael tries to charge for toilets it will be one step too far," said the flamboyant Greek entrepreneur, who feels that only optional elements of the journey should be charged for.
Stelios says easyJet's best decision was to cut out the travel agent, although the airline listed on the GDSs once it had built up huge passenger volumes. "The best time to negotiate with someone is from a position of strength," he said. "The preparation pays the fee."
It seems that very little would faze the easyJet founder, but he cheerfully admits that one thing caught him out: "Some people fly on easyJet and then stay at the Ritz, which is not what I expected."
Looking back, Stelios is modest about his beginnings in the aviation industry: "I think I was very lucky because I had a rich father. That helps enormously in the aviation industry," he said, drawing a ripple of laughter from the audience.
And while easyGroup will stick to the travel sector, because that is where its brand is known, Stelios says: "Given the way the world is today, I wouldn't start an airline again." He explained that he would not have be able to get a similar shareholding for the same price today. Rather than start a new airline, Haji-Ioannou says: "I'd rather stay where I am."
In fact, during the session it emerged that easyGroup "would not be allowed" to start a new airline in the UK or overseas under the "Easy" brand unless it is through easyJet.
"We have an arrangement between ourselves [EasyGroup] and the airline which wouldn't allow it, unlike [Virgin Atlantic founder Richard] Branson who kept the rights to set up different airlines around the world."
Reflecting on the aviation industry in general, Stelios concludes: "The economy generally is a very Darwinian place. It is survival of the fittest. The airline industry doesn't follow Darwin, unfortunately, because the dinosaurs won't die."