Ryanair: a bus route to a better life for thousands of Poles

It’s been said that the UK government has created more jobs for Poles than the Polish government in the just under two years since the European Union spread eastwards.

And judging by the number packing one of Ryanair’s 737s from Stansted to Rzezsow in the south-east of Poland last week, Michael O’Leary is also playing his part in powering the engine of the UK’s buoyant service sector, that relies on hundreds of thousands of well-educated, English-speaking, hard-working and impeccably-mannered central and east Europeans to wait our tables, build our office blocks, plumb our bathrooms and au pair our kids.

Without being unkind, Rzezsow is not going to have tourists flocking to an until-now hidden central European treasure. An hour from the Ukrainian border and the rugged Carpathian mountains, it’s a pleasant enough place, with a old town square and cobbled streets surrounded by the usual drab Warsaw Pact-era tower blocks and industrial areas, although I admit that in the midst of a miserable late Polish winter, you probably don’t see it at its best. And, although the town is the centre of Poland’s thriving “Aviation Valley” - a cluster of western-owned manufacturing facilities and locally-run SMEs – there are no direct business flights and I was one of only a few “suits” on the aircraft.

The Ryanair flight is essentially a bus service for young ex-pats from a remote and impoverished corner of the country, who – thanks to O’Leary’s rock-bottom prices – can commute to find work in a relatively rich country crying out for plumbers, bar staff and bricklayers. There are some one million Poles currently working in London and Ireland.

But, unlike Poles of previous generations, who left for North America in their millions in the 20th century rarely if ever to return to their homeland, these 21st century emigres can afford to fly back for a plate of mum’s borsch every few weeks.

For the locals, the Ryanair flight – the only direct international connection from Rzezsow, although more are planned – is a lifeline. Ryanair offers several such routes throughout Europe. The airline may be a bete noire to UK travellers, who (while lapping up the low prices) moan about long airport queues, the free seating scramble, the restrictions on luggage and the non-negotiable 45-min minimum check in. But for Poland’s army of ex-pats, Ryanair provides a route to a better standard of living.

I’ll be writing about Poland’s Aviation Valley and its place in the global aerospace industry in the 9 May issue of Flight International.

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