Ryanair: Among the 400,000 passengers whose flights are grounded? Your rights

Up to 400,000 Ryanair passengers could see their flights cancelled over the next six weeks as the airline grounds up to 50 departures a day planes.

The airline says it is a bid improve its system-wide punctuality, and has apologised “to the small number of customers affected by these cancellations”. Our travel correspondent explains the background and your rights.

What is happening? 

The airline says it is cancelling 40-50 flights a day until the end of October because its punctuality has slipped from nine out of 10 flughts to eight out of 10. The reason: “tighter crewing numbers”, as a result of a new leave calendar, which means pilots and cabin crew need urgently to take holidays.

“By cancelling less than 2 per cent of our flying programme over the next six weeks, we can improve the operational resilience of our schedules and restore punctuality to our annualised target of 90 per cent,” says the airline. It claims that by having standby aircraft ready it will improve timekeeping.

What is the effect?

Around 9,000 Ryanair passengers a day are being told shortly before departure that their plane has been cancelled. They are then asked to choose between claiming a refund or re-booking their flight.

Is my flight likely to be affected — and how will I know if it is? 

It is difficult to identify any pattern to cancellations; on Saturday 16 September, grounded flights vary from relatively short (Gatwick and Edinburgh to Dublin) to relatively long (Stansted to Madrid and Stockholm). Cancellations appear to be in very rough proportion to the usual number of flights from each airport.

According to cases seen by The Independent, the amount of notice given is typically between six and 48 hours. The airline is saying on Saturday 16 September: ”Cancellation notices for flights cancelled up to and including Wednesday 20 September have been sent to affected customers and we will continue to send regular updates.”

If you booked through an agent, you may need to check your flight online.

My flight has been cancelled. How can I get where I need to be?

You are entitled under EU rules to “re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to your final destination at the earliest opportunity”. Unfortunately what exactly “the earliest opportunity” means has not been properly tested and defined in court. Many passengers are being told they may need to wait several days before they can be flown to their destination. But the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) tells me airlines are obliged to book you on a rival airline “Where there is a significant difference in the time that a re-route can be offered on the airline’s own services”. The CAA does not define “significant”; easyJet, Britain’s biggest budget airline, insists that if it can get you to your destination within 48 hours then it will not allow a switch to another airline. 

I believe that it would be difficult for any airline to argue that making you wait more than two days isn’t a “significant difference”. So if Ryanair refuses to book you on, for example, British Airways or easyJet, you could buy a new ticket and then seek to recoup the cost from the Irish airline. But I must stress there is no absolute guarantee you will be able to get your money back.

I have been re-booked on a different Ryanair flight in two days’ time. What do I do about finding somewhere to stay?

Happily there’s no confusion over the duty of care. “Passengers shall be offered free of charge (a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time; (b) hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary,” say the EU rules. 

The airline is obliged to provide these, but if it does not, you should keep all receipts to claim back the cost later (and note that “refreshments” do not include alcohol).

What about compensation?

Ryanair is obliged to pay €250 cash compensation for each passenger on a cancelled flight of up to 1,500km, rising to €400 for longer flights. The only way the airline can dodge this liability is if it tells you of the cancellation at least two weeks ahead; or, if it gives you a week’s notice and finds another flight that gets you to your destination less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival; or if gives you less than a week’s notice but puts you on a flight that arrives less than two hours after you were supposed to get there.

How do I claim compensation, and how long will I have to wait?

You do not need to use a claims handling firm, which will take at least one-third of the compensation. Instead, fill out the online form Ryanair’s record in paying compensation when it accepts it is at fault is fairly good, with claims routinely paid in a week or less. Bear in mind, though, that the number of claims will soar as a result of all the cancellations, so it may take longer.

But Ryanair told me the cancellation is “beyond its control”. Does that mean it doesn’t have to pay?

The only grounds for not providing compensation are “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”. It is difficult to see how any airline could argue that cancellations caused by its own administrative changes were caused by “extraordinary circumstances”.

I have a non-cancellable hotel booked at my destination, which I now cannot use. Will Ryanair cover the cost?

No. Hotels, car rental, etc are consequential expenses for which Ryanair is not liable. If they are part of a package then the tour operator should refund them. Otherwise travel insurance, if you have it, may cover your losses. Better in any event, of course, not to incur losses. So it is worth talking to the hotelier to see if he or she will waive the charge.

How much is this going to cost Ryanair?

If 400,000 passengers have their flights cancelled, the total liability in compensation payouts is around £100m, though past experience suggests by no means everyone will claim. In addition, the airline will need to pay for hotels, meals and flights on other airlines.

What exactly has the airline said?

This is the airline’s statement in full.

Ryanair, today (15th Sept) announced that it would cancel 40-50 flights daily for the next six weeks (to the end of October) to improve its system-wide punctuality which has fallen below 80% in the first two weeks of September through a combination of ATC capacity delays and strikes, weather disruptions and the impact of increased holiday allocations to pilots and cabin crew as the airline moves to allocate annual leave during a 9 month transition period (April to December 2017) to move the airline’s holiday year (currently April to March) to a calendar year (Jan to Dec) from 1st January 2018 onwards.

Ryanair has operated at record schedule and traffic levels during the peak summer months of July (12.6m guests) and August (12.7m guests) but has a backlog of crew leave which must be allocated before 31stDec 2017 in order to switch to a calendar leave year (as required by the IAA) from 1st Jan 2018 onwards.

These tighter crewing numbers and the impact of ATC capacity restrictions in the UK, Germany and Spain, as well as French ATC strikes and adverse weather (thunderstorms) have given rise to significant delays in recent weeks. Ryanair’s on-time performance has declined from 90 per cent to under 80 per cent over the past two weeks, a figure that is unacceptable to Ryanair and its customers.

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By reducing its scheduled flying programme over the next six weeks by less than 2% (of its over 2,500 daily flights), the airline will create additional standby aircraft which will help restore on-time performance to its 90% average.  Ryanair apologises sincerely for the inconvenience caused to customers by these cancellations. Customers will be contacted directly about this small number of cancellations and offered alternative flights or full refunds.

Ryanair’s Robin Kiely said: “We have operated a record schedule (and traffic numbers) during the peak summer months of July and August but must now allocate annual leave to pilots and cabin crew in September and October (while still running the bulk of our summer schedule). This increased leave at a time of ATC capacity delays and strikes, has severely reduced our on-time performance over the past two weeks to under 80%. By cancelling less than 2% of our flying programme over the next six weeks, (until our winter schedule starts in early November) we can improve the operational resilience of our schedules and restore punctuality to our annualised target of 90%.

We apologise sincerely to the small number of customers affected by these cancellations, and will be doing our utmost to arrange alternative flights and/or full refunds for them.”

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