herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Ryanair passengers grounded again as airline cancels 18,000 more flights in roster debacle

Chief executive Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair will heap further misery on passengers. Photo: PA
Chief executive Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair will heap further misery on passengers. Photo: PA

Ryanair is axing 34 routes across Europe this winter in a move that will hit almost 400,000 more flyers as the carrier struggles to contain a roster debacle that has become a public relations nightmare.

The number of affected passengers comes on top of the 315,000 who have already been hit by flight cancellations.

In a dramatic and unprecedented statement, Ryanair also said it had pulled out of the race to buy bankrupt Italian airline Alitalia. That prompted Ryanair's shares to soar 4pc in Dublin.

"In order to focus on repairing this rostering problem this winter, Ryanair will eliminate all management distractions, starting with its interest in Alitalia," the statement said.

Anger

"We have notified the Alitalia bankruptcy commissioners that we will not be pursuing our interest or submitting any further offers for the airline."

Passengers took to social media yesterday to vent their anger at the latest cancellations - which will total around 18,000 flights - with some claiming they were unable to get through to the airline by phone or via webchat to access information and rebook seats.

The airline has given the newly-hit passengers a €40, or €80 return, voucher which it said can be used to book a flight on any Ryanair service between October and March.

Ryanair said the vouchers would cost it less than €25m on top of the almost €25m bill that it will shoulder because of the cancellations announced last week.

It said its full-year profits would not be hit by the saga.

However, it expects total passenger numbers in the 12 months to the end of next March to hit 129 million rather than the previously anticipated 131 million.

Ryanair will ground 25 jets this winter from its 400-strong fleet to free up more than 250 pilots to fill a gap left by a rostering debacle that left it with too few to cover its schedule. It will also ground 10 aircraft from a fleet of 445 jets from April.

The airline insisted it had recruited and would train more than 650 pilots in the coming eight months.

"From today, there will be no more rostering-related flight cancellations this winter or in summer 2018," said chief executive Michael O'Leary.

The airline insisted that "false claims" had been made about its ability to recruit pilots and that it would not give in to an apparent groundswell of pilot discontent and demands for improved pay and conditions.

"We will not respond or accede to anonymous demands for group or regional meetings, or for union interference at these internal ERC (Employee Representative Committee) meetings," its statement said, adding that "hundreds of pilots" had offered to work days off.

"Many of our pilots and ERCs have confirmed these unsigned letters were drafted by pilots/unions of airlines who wish to pursue an industrial relations agenda at the expense of Ryanair and its pilots," it said.

Failure

However, two Ryanair pilot meetings were held in Dublin yesterday, attended by up to 150 of the 350 based in the capital, with virtually all indicating they had now joined the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association (Ialpa).

In a memo to its pilots yesterday, seen by the Herald, Ryanair's chief operations officer Michael Hickey apologised for "any difficulty that our rostering failure and our response to it last week may have caused".

Last night, Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was set to launch "enforcement action" against Ryanair for failing to give customers accurate information about their rights.

The regulator said it could take legal action for breach of consumer protection laws.

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