Commission insists Ryanair should respect EU reimbursement rules

Irish low cost airline Ryanair's CEO, Michael O'Leary, as he addresses a press conference in Madrid, Spain, 24 August 2017. [Chema Moya/EPA/EFE]

Ryanair said on Monday (18 September) a mass cancellation of flights was set to cost the Irish no-frills airline €25 million, as it bowed to customer anger by publishing a full list of journeys axed.

The Dublin-based carrier said on Friday it would scrap up to about 2,000 flights over six weeks, affecting 400,000 customers, as it struggles with pilot availability and hopes to restore a high level of punctuality.

Ryanair initially published on its website only those flights cancelled through to the end of Wednesday – leaving passengers on later dates in the dark – before agreeing to give a comprehensive list as it faced public anger across social networks.

“This is a mess of our own making,” Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said in statement.

“I apologise sincerely to all our customers for any worry or concern this has caused them over the past weekend.”

O’Leary meanwhile told a Dublin press conference that the company expected to forego up to €5 million in lost profit over the next six weeks.

In terms of compensation under EU rules, O’Leary said Ryanair’s cost was expected to be a maximum of €20 million.

The European Union earlier warned Ryanair it must “fully comply” with rules on compensating passengers.

“All passengers whose flights are cancelled have a comprehensive set of rights under EU law,” European Union Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said in a statement. “These include the right to reimbursement, re-routing or return, as well as the right to care and in some circumstances the right to compensation.”

Customers earlier used Twitter and Facebook to vent their anger.

“What if your (sic) flying out on a flight not cancelled before Wednesday, how the hell do you know if you can get back. Publish full list now!” tweeted Carole Schofield.

Lack of pilots

Ryanair is scrapping 40 to 50 flights daily – “less than two percent” of its flying programme – to address problems caused by air traffic control (ATC) delays, strikes and weather disruption.

But the Dublin-based carrier admitted that it has been hit also by pilots and cabin crew being forced to take outstanding holiday entitlement by the end of the year as part of new company rules.

Reports said the airline had been impacted also by recruitment issues after losing a number of pilots to rival carrier Norwegian Air.

“We can confirm that 140 pilots have joined Norwegian from Ryanair this year,” said a statement Monday from the Scandinavian airline.

“Pilot recruitment is also underway for more pilots for our new Dublin base opening later this year,” Norwegian added.

O’Leary hit back, stating: “Ryanair is not short of pilots.”

Shares in Ryanair dropped 1.9% to €16.74 in Dublin trade by the close.

“We see a modest adverse financial impact from refunded tickets and compensation cost,” said brokers Liberum.

“This is clearly a disappointing and embarrassing operational mistake for Ryanair. However, so long as the pilot shortage is rectified in due course, there should be no (long term group) impact,” it added in a client note.

In Britain, a key market for Ryanair, aviation minister Martin Callanan said he was “very concerned” by the airline’s actions.

In a statement Friday, Ryanair’s head of communications, Robin Kiely, said the airline was being impacted by having to allocate annual leave to pilots and cabin crew over the next six weeks.

“This increased leave at a time of ATC capacity delays and strikes (in France), has severely reduced our on-time performance… to under 80%,” he said.

Kiely added that by cancelling flights until Ryanair’s winter schedule starts in early November, the carrier can restore punctuality to a target of 90%.

Ryanair has worked hard over the past few years to improve its public image after fierce criticism over its no-frills approach.

Since 2013, the airline has become far more engaging on social media and produced a simplified website. However, it continues to face passenger and media ire over its tough approach to customers, by for example imposing on-the-spot fines for carrying too much luggage weight.

Background

Passenger rights: Equal treatment for all?

All European passengers —whether travelling by air, rail bus or boat— are entitled to compensation when their trips are cancelled or delayed. EU policymakers are now considering further measures to ensure equal treatment for travellers and fairer competition between transport modes.