Ryanair has been humbled as an overstretched, undermanaged airline as it has become a byword for chaos by cancelling thousands of flights, then many thousands more as the normally indolent and complicit CAA explodes with rage at the airline’s handling of Passenger Rights under EU Law.
Ryanair has apologised to 800,000 passengers for cancelling their flights because of a pilot shortage, and then misleading them about their rights. But an obligation to meet travellers’ out-of-pocket expenses has raised fears that airlines’ costs – and fares – could soar because of demands for recompense. Meanwhile CEO Michael O’Leary has shown himself to be a strong contender for the “Gobshite of the Year Award” but if only he had learnt from his recent experience in Manchester?
Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive of Ryanair after arriving in a hotel in Manchester went to the bar and asked for a pint of Guinness.
The barman said, “That will be £1 please, Mr. O’Leary.”
Taken aback, O’Leary replied, “That’s very cheap,” and handed over his money.
“We do try to stay ahead of the competition”, said the barman. “We have the cheapest beer in England”.
“That is remarkable value”, Michael comments.
“I see you don’t have a glass, you’ll need one of ours. That will be £3 please.”
O’Leary scowled, but paid up. He took his drink and walked towards a seat.
“Ah, you want to sit down?” said the barman. “That’ll be an extra £2. If you’d pre-booked it would have cost £1.
O’Leary swore to himself, but paid up.
“I see you’ve brought your laptop” added the barman. “That wasn’t pre-booked either, that’s another £3.”
O’Leary was so incensed and his face was red with rage.
“I’ve had enough! I insist on speaking to a manager!”
“Here is his e-mail address, or if you wish, you can contact him between 9.00 am and 9.01am every morning, Monday to Tuesday. Calls are free, unless answered, then there is a charge of only £1 per second”.
“I will never use this bar again”.
“OK but do remember, we are the only hotel in England selling pints for £1.”
Ryanair began to cancel hundreds of flights at very short notice, having “messed up” rostering of pilots. It initially cancelled a tranche of 2,100 departures until the end of October, saying that its winter programme would be unaffected. But on 27 September Ryanair said it would ground 25 of its jets this winter – representing one-16th of its fleet – and cut 18,000 flights from the schedules. By giving more than two weeks’ notice of cancellations, the airline avoided the obligation to pay cash compensation.
Affected passengers were emailed with two options: a refund, or re-booking on a different Ryanair flight. The option to fly on a rival airline at Ryanair’s expense was not mentioned – an omission that infuriated the CAA’s chief executive, Andrew Haines. In a series of letters to Ryanair, he set out a list of demands on behalf of passengers booked on flights to, from or within the UK. They included offering everyone affected the option of being booked on a different airline. Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said: “Our job is to protect passengers’ rights and ensure that all airlines operating in the UK are fully compliant with important consumer laws.
“Where we find that an airline is systematically flouting these rules, we will not hesitate to take action, to minimise the harm and detriment caused to passengers, as we have done with Ryanair in recent days. It appears that Ryanair has now capitulated. We will review their position in detail and monitor this situation to ensure that passengers get what they are entitled to in practice.”
Ryanair has counter-attacked the CAA for failing to take action against British Airways after its IT collapse in May, saying: “A computer meltdown stranded hundreds of thousands of British citizens/visitors at London Heathrow and many other airports, with no apparent action taken by the CAA in respect of re-accommodation or enforcement against British Airways.”
Victoria Moores, European Bureau Chief of Air Transport World, said the reputation damage of the cancellation saga will ripple well beyond Ryanair: “It’s going to affect other carriers negatively. There’s a perception out there that airlines drag people off flights, they nickel and dime their customers, and really don’t give a damn.
“Every negative story affects the entire industry.”
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