The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is taking legal action against Ryanair over the airline’s refusal to compensate thousands of UK customers affected by flight disruption over the summer.
Ryanair was hit by its worst ever strikes in the summer, as walkouts by pilots and cabin crew over pay and conditions forced it to cancel flights, including to major holiday destinations such as Spain, Italy and Portugal.
Passengers have made claims for compensation to the airline, but these have been rejected by Ryanair on the grounds that the disruption arose from “exceptional circumstances” and therefore exempt.
However, the CAA says passengers are entitled to compensation under EU law.
Passengers have previously been able to take their complaints to AviationADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), a body approved by the CAA, but Ryanair has informed the CAA that it has ended its agreement with AviationADR.
This means passengers who have made strike-related compensation claims through AviationADR will have to wait for the CAA’s legal action, which could result in court proceedings.
In a statement, Dublin-based Ryanair said: “Courts in Germany, Spain and Italy have already ruled that strikes are an ‘exceptional circumstance’ and EU261 compensation does not apply. We expect the UK CAA and courts will follow this precedent.”
Passengers with new claims who are not satisfied with the outcome or have not received a reply from the airline within eight weeks, are advised by the regulator to contact its passenger advice and complaints team.
Recent figures from the ADR service showed Ryanair passengers accounted for the biggest proportion of all appeals, at 30%.
There were a series of staff walkouts in Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands over the summer. Ryanair pledged to offer affected passengers alternative flights at the time.
Europe’s biggest budget carrier secured a breakthrough in August when it struck a deal with Irish pilots over pay and conditions, and reached another agreement with German pilots this week.
The consumer group Which? welcomed the CAA’s move, with Rory Boland, travel editor, saying: “Customers would have been outraged that Ryanair attempted to shirk its responsibilities by refusing to pay out compensation for cancelling services during the summer – which left hard-working families stranded with holiday plans stalled.
“It is right that the CAA is now taking legal action against Ryanair… to ensure that the airline must finally do the right thing by its customers and pay the compensation owed.”
Megan French, consumer expert at MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “It is outrageous that the airline has refused to pay compensation for delays caused by its own staff striking. This is despite the regulator saying it did not believe this was ‘extraordinary’ enough a circumstance to allow Ryanair to refuse a claim, and the European court of justice having ruled that a ‘wildcat strike’ did not count as an extraordinary circumstance.”
However, there are different legal interpretations. Mark Simpson, an analyst at Irish stockbroker Goodbody, said: “We note the Barcelona court decision in October, which noted no compensation is due to customers whose flights are cancelled due to an internal strike. Similarly, in the past, Lufthansa were not obliged to pay EU261 allowances when pilots striked for 15 days. Further to the UK CAA action against Ryanair, we note no action was taken against British Airways during its staff strikes last year.”
The CAA declined to comment further.