Aviation regulator tells airline to explain by 5pm Friday how it will reroute 400,000 people affected by scrapped flights
Ryanair has been ordered to tell hundreds of thousands of passengers how it proposes to provide alternatives to cancelled flights by 5pm on Friday.
As criticism of the Ryanair’s treatment of affected passengers intensified, the aviation regulator told the Irish airline to explain how it will reroute passengers and email all those affected by Wednesday to explain their options.
In a strongly worded letter, the CAA’s chief executive, Andrew Haines, told Ryanair: “This issue is urgent, as passengers may already have been disadvantaged by taking a decision based on misleading information provided by Ryanair.”
Ryanair responded, saying it had reminded its customer service agents on Wednesday “of the refund and re-accommodation entitlements of customers in cases of flight cancellations”.
But a Ryanair memo, seen by the Guardian, appears to instruct call centre staff that if offering flights with other carriers to do so provided the price “does not exceed three times the value of the original Ryanair fare”.
The document was criticised by consumer group, Which? – its managing director Alex Neill said: “Ryanair appears to be plucking figures out of thin air as there is no legal basis for the arbitrary figure they’ve set.
“The law says passengers must be rerouted and there’s no specified limit on cost. This yet again highlights the importance of the action which the Civil Aviation Authority has started.”
The CAA had said earlier that Ryanair had wrongly claimed it was not obliged to arrange new flights for passengers on rival airlines, and in his letter Haines spelt out that emails previously sent to passengers had “omitted material information” about their rights.
Ryanair came under scrutiny after announcing earlier this week that it would scrap 18,000 flights on 34 routes between November 2017 and March 2018, affecting nearly 400,000 passengers. The statement came a week after a first wave of cancellations was announced.
Haines called on Ryanair to issue a press release explaining how it would reroute passengers, including a commitment to assist passengers who had already chosen an option that was not suitable for them as a result of being misled by the airline, and a promise to reimburse those affected.
The latest intervention by the CAA – which has launched enforcement action against the Dublin-based carrier – came after criticism from Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister. She lamented Ryanair’s “deeply regrettable” decision to cancel scores of flights from Scotland, and backed the CAA’s legal warnings to the airline over misleading passengers.
“I have serious concerns about the decisions taken by Ryanair in the past couple of days. These will cause disruption to many passengers travelling to and from Scotland to London, and indeed to other destinations in Europe,” she told MSPs.
“We fully support the CAA’s launch of enforcement action because it is vital at the time of disruption that airlines provide full and accurate information about the rights that they [passengers] have.”
The Scottish transport minister, Humza Yousaf, was writing to the airline to protest against the cancellations, she said.
Haines had earlier told the BBC he doubted that the dispute would end up in court, but said it was unacceptable that Ryanair was disregarding the law and customers’ rights. “These are simple things to fix and they’re choosing not to fix them,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to choose between low fares and legal rights.”
In his letter, sent to Ryanair’s chief legal officer, Juliusz Komorek, Haines said there would be a conference call with the airline on Monday to discuss why it was taking so long to respond to the regulator’s requests.
Ryanair’s share price had lost little ground until Thursday, when it fell by more than 4% to €16.41 (£14.39), leaving its stock market value nearly £1.7bn lower than before the cancellations.
In a brief statement issued before the CAA letter, Ryanair said it would cooperate with the regulator: “We are meeting with the CAA and will comply fully with whatever requirements they ask us to.”
The CAA’s intervention means the company is now fending off the displeasure of investors, regulators, politicians, passengers, pilots and cabin crew, despite its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, attempting to bring the rostering problem under control.
According to EU regulations, airlines that cancel flights are obliged to offer a refund or reroute passengers under “comparable transport conditions”. Guidelines state that this should be done as soon as possible, even if it has to be with another airline.
Affected services include routes from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London Stansted, and from the Scottish airports to Poland, Spain and Germany. The disruption began the previous week, when Ryanair said it would scrap up to 50 flights a day until 31 October, citing a “mess-up” in how it schedules time off for pilots.
The airline said it had emailed affected customers to offer a refund or an alternative flight. Passengers will also receive a travel voucher for a £40 one-way or £80 return journey that can be used to book a Ryanair flight for travel between October 2017 and March 2018.