There’s bad news for Ryanair passengers who thought they were off the hook after the wave of flight cancellations the airline announced last week: Ryanair announced on Wednesday that it is cancelling an additional 18,000 flights between November and March, affecting 400,000 passengers.
“We sincerely apologize to those customers who have been affected by last week’s flight cancellations or these sensible schedule changes announced today,” said Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. “While over 99% of our 129 million customers will not have been affected by any cancellations or disruptions, we deeply regret any doubt we caused existing customers last week about Ryanair’s reliability, or the risk of further cancellations.”
Thirty four (34) routes will be suspended this winter. Some of these include London Stansted to Edinburgh, Newcastle to Faro, London Gatwick to Belfast, and Glasgow to Las Palmas. International destinations that have been cut include Hamburg, Germany; Thessaloniki, Greece; and Trapani, Sicily.
Ryanair describes the move as “slowing its growth”, saying that it will fly 25 fewer aircraft out of its fleet of 400 in order to “eliminate all risk of further flight cancellations because slower growth creates lots of spare aircraft and crews across Ryanair’s 86 bases this winter.”
Ryanair us offering pilot bonuses for those pilots who choose to work extra days this year or postpone a week of their vacation until next year. “This now eliminates the roster problems this winter, because slower growth means we no longer our pilots to reorganize their leave,” Ryanair said in a statement.
“From today, there will be no more rostering-related flight cancellations this winter or in summer 2018,” O’Leary said. “Slower growth this winter will create lots of spare aircraft and crews, which will allow us to manage the exceptional volumes of annual leave we committed to delivering in the nine months to December 2017. We will start a new 12-month leave period on the 1 January 2018 in full compliance with EU regulations and the IAA’s requirements.”
Ryanair has said that is has offered all 400,000 affected passengers the choice between a refund or an alternate flight. It has also given all passengers a €40 (€80 return) travel voucher to book a flight on any Ryanair service between this October and next March.
“All of the passengers who have been affected by these disruptions have now been offered re-accommodation or full refunds and their applicable EU261 entitlements. in addition, today they are receiving a travel voucher which they may use to book any Ryanair flight of their choice during October for travel between October and march 2018,” O’Leary said. “We look forward to welcoming them all on board.”
In a further turn, Ryanair says that it is withdrawing from bidding with Alitalia, the bankrupt Italian airline, in order to “eliminate all management distractions”.
“[Purchasing Alitalia] doesn’t fit at all to Ryanair’s strategy,” said Daniel Röska, an analyst with research firm Sanford C Bernstein. “You would have got a bad airline with union conflicts that doesn’t fly the same aircraft. People were worried that they might wind up with Alitalia and that would cause management distractions.”
Despite this, passengers affected by both this cancellation and the last wave of cancellations aren’t happy with how Ryanair is handling the situation. Many passengers accuse Ryanair of withholding important information about cancellations until too close to scheduled departure. Passengers are also upset with how Ryanair has accommodated them after cancellations, especially those who were left stranded in foreign cities after cancellations last week meant their flight home was cancelled.
Ryanair has been ordered to tell passengers exactly how it plans to accommodate them by 5pm tonight in the form of a press release, a link to which must be posted on Ryanair’s website. In a letter from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Ryanair was called to clarify its rebooking policy; commit to assist passengers who chose an unsuitable option because they were not in possession of the full facts; and to refund any out-of-pocket expenses of people affected by the cancellations.
“There are clear laws in place, which are intended to assist passengers in the event of a cancellation,” said Andrew Haines, CEO of the CAA. “We have made this crystal clear to Ryanair, who are well aware of their legal obligations. The information published by Ryanair again fails to make this clear.”
The CAA is also requiring that Ryanair provides it with the text for an email to be sent to those whose flights were cancelled to or from the UK. This email must include “accurate and comprehensive information on [passengers’] rights and options. In addition, it must also provide assistance to those who have chosen a refund but want to change their mind and be book on a flight with another airline.
“In expediting our enforcement action we are seeking to ensure that Ryanair’s customers will reciente the correct and necessary information, to make an informed choice about an alternative flight,” Haines said.
Anyone who accepted a refund and then rebooked at a price higher than the value of the refund on another airline will be entitled to claim the difference between the two.
“This issue is urgent, as many passengers may already have been disadvantaged by taking a decision based on misleading information provided by Ryanair,” said Haines in an email to the Irish Ultra-Low-Cost carrier. “[Ryanair is] persistently misleading passengers with inaccurate information regarding their rights.”
Ryanair says that it has reminded customer service agents “of refund and reaccommodation entitlements of customers in cases of flight cancellations.”
According to The Guardian, however, a Ryanair memo tells call center staff that they can’t offer flight with other carriers if the cost of the new flight exceeds three times the value of the original Ryanair fare.
“Ryanair appears to be plucking figures out of thin air as there is no legal basis for the arbitrary figure they’ve set,” says Alex Neill, a managing director of the consumer group ‘Which?’. “The law says passengers must be rerouted and there’s no specified limit on [the cost of the new ticket]. This yet again highlights the importance of the action which the Civil Aviation Authority has started.”
The CAA claims that Ryanair has wrongly stated that it was not obliged to arrange new flights for passengers on rival airlines. Haines says that emails sent to passengers “omitted material information about their rights”.
“Michael O’Leary stated that Ryanair was not obliged to reroute passengers on airlines other than Ryanair,” Haines said. “To date, [the airline] has failed to correct this.
“The email [already sent to passengers] refers only to a reroute on an Ryanair flight and contains no information about the possibility of rerouting on another airline,” Haines continued. “It also refers to the possibility of rerouting from different departure or destination airports but fails to inform passengers that Ryanair is obliged to bear the cost of transferring passengers to those other airports.”
The CAA also wants Ryanair to pay special attention to assisting passengers who had already chosen options that weren’t reasonable for them as a result of being misled by the airline. The agency says that, as a result of incomplete information, the average traveller is likely “to take a transactional decision he or she would not have taken otherwise”.
The CAA isn’t the only major government figure to criticize Ryanair. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First minister, said that she finds Ryanair’s decision to cancel dozens of flights from Scotland “deeply regrettable”. Sturgeon has backed the CAA’s legal warnings to Ryanair. Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Transport Minister, is also apparently writing to Ryanair to protest cancellations.”
“I have serious concerns about the decisions taken by Ryanair in the past couple of days,” Sturgeon said. “These will cause disruption to many passengers travelling to and from Scotland to London, and indeed to other destinations in Europe.
“We fully support the CAA’s launch of enforcement action,” Sturgeon continued, “because it is vital at the time of disruption that airlines provide full and accurate information about the rights that [passengers] have.”
“We note that CAA chief executive Andrew Haines told the BBC that the regulator is ‘furious’ with Ryanair. Thus there appears to be a strong likelihood of a punitive fine for the airline,” said Neil Wilson, a Senior Market Analyst at ETX Capital. “There is also now the prospect of legal action from the Civil Aviation Authority. Whilst the regulator usually backs off after getting transgressor to change practices, the language being used [in the CAA’s letter to Ryanair] is exceptionally strong.”
“These are simple things to fix and they’re choosing not to fix them,” said Haines, who said that, though he doubts the dispute will end up in court, it is unacceptable that Ryanair is disregarding the law and customers’ rights. “People shouldn’t have to choose between low fares and legal rights.”
Ryanair says that it is “meeting with the CAA and will comply fully with whatever requirements they ask us to.”
Ryanair has already made some changes to their website in response to criticism from the CAA. “If you require rerouting options, such as departing/arriving from another airport served by Ryanair or (if a Ryanair flight is unavailable at your departure airport or a suitable alternative airport) an alternative airline, please contact one of our advisers using our free online chat or calling one of our customer service contact numbers,” reads the section on the Ryanair website detailing the latest round of cancellations.
One passenger, however, says that he still had trouble rebooking on another airline. He said that, when speaking with a customer service represented earlier this week, he was repeatedly told that he couldn’t be rebooked on another airline because he had been notified of the cancellation over two weeks in advance. The customer says that the representative told him that she couldn’t override Ryanair policy.
Ryanair says that it expects to see a softening in yields and fares over the coming months as it offers a wider range of seat sales in order to win back passengers who were driven away by the airline’s newest crisis. The airline expects to fly 129 million passengers by the end of the year, which is two million fewer than it had originally planned. However, Ryanair says that it expects to fly 138 million passengers, an increase over 2017’s numbers. Ryanair expects to add 50 Boeing 737 aircraft to its fleet by the end of the second quarter next year.
Featured image by Layoverhub contributor James Cahalin