Ryanair’s Chief Executive, Michael O’Leary, has a notoriously thick skin when it comes to passenger gripes, but even the king of the low-cost airline is reeling from the latest public relations disaster to hit the company.
This week he announced that Ryanair would cancel between 40 and 50 flights every day for the next six weeks, admitting that errors had been made with the planning of pilot holidays.
“When we make a mess in Ryanair we come out with our hands up, we try to explain why we have made the mess, and we will pay compensation to those passengers entitled to compensation which will be those flights cancelled,” said O’Leary.
Although O’Leary claims that only 2% of passengers who have booked flights in the period until 31 October will be affected by the cancellations, this represents passengers on 285,000 flights, and concern is more widespread.
At Stanstead Airport, a key Ryanair hub, passengers were distinctly unimpressed. “It’s not fair for the people who have already booked their holidays, their planes, everything,” said one. “It’s a complete cock up, that’s how you can describe it. Quite why they have done it I have no idea,” said another.
Inevitably, many of the disgruntled took to twitter:
Michael O’Leary has been quick to deny any link between the cancelled flights and the defection of 140 of its pilots to rival budget airline Norwegian earlier this year.
Norwegian confirmed that it would be opening a pilot base in Dublin, Ryanair’s main operating hub, later this year. It already has a head office, headed by Tore Jenssen, at Dublin Airport, and employs over 80 people there.
In a recruitment battle between the two airlines, Norwegian is said to have offered pilots competitive salaries and permanent positions, which many compare favourably to the contractor status of Ryanair pilots. In response, Ryanair is reported to have started handing out 10,000 euro “signing-on” bonuses.
“I would be very worried about any pilots leaving Ryanair or any other airline to go to Norwegian. I don`t believe Norwegian will survive the next 12 months,” said O’Leary.
It appears that the problems may simply be due to a backlog of pilot’s unused leave. Ryanair recently fell foul of a European ruling in relation to the employment status of its cabin crew.
Will I be affected
Ryanair has published a list of all affected flights up to Saturday 28 October on its website.
It is offering alternative bookings and financial compensation, though passengers will not be compensated for any consequential bookings, such as for hire cars.
And what about Ryanair?
Industry estimates that the airline could face up to 20 million euros in compensation claims. Its shares fell by 3-4 per cent at the start of the week after it first announced the cancellations.