Ryanair may be facing a compensation bill for as little as €650,000 after the majority of its Irish passengers have so far opted not to put in claims following a wave of last-minute cancellations in September.
Nearly 9,500 passengers, who were given alternative flights, or refunds, were also eligible for up to €250 compensation, but just 2,600 have made claims to date, Commissioner for Aviation Regulation Cathy Mannion said.
A claim by all could cost Ryanair €2.4 million. Pointing out that those affected have six years to apply, Ms Mannion encouraged anyone with a valid claim to contact the commission or FlightRights.ie.
Ryanair was forced to cancel more than 20,000 flights across Europe from September after miscalculating pilots' annual leave, causing chaos for those with September bookings cancelled at the last minute.
Under consumer protection rules, passengers whose flights are cancelled less than two weeks before departure can apply for compensation, unless the disruption is caused by adverse weather or air traffic control problems.
The majority of Ryanair’s almost 30,000 Irish-based customers affected were not entitled to compensation because they were given more than a fortnight’s notice and given rearranged travel dates.
Ms Mannion said the commission had closely monitored Ryanair’s compliance with its obligations since October. The latest provisional claim numbers are as of last month.
Following the regrettable flight cancellations in September 2017, all claims submitted by affected customers have been processed and we continue to meet our EU261 obligations in full
The figures mentioned do not involve extra expenses incurred by passengers as part of the travel upheaval, which would also have had to be covered by the airline.
In September, the commission secured a commitment from Ryanair to handle claims within 28 days, and it has so far complied with this undertaking in 99.8 per cent of cases, the Commissioner declared.
Replying to questions, Ryanair said: “Following the regrettable flight cancellations in September 2017, all claims submitted by affected customers have been processed and we continue to meet our EU261 obligations in full.”
Partly driven by the Ryanair crisis, the Commission had its busiest-ever year in 2017. Complaints about cancellations alone were up almost 50 per cent compared to 2016. In all, it dealt with just under 1,000 complaints.
Allegations that Ryanair has changed its seating allocation system to deliberately split up travelling parties who do not pay extra to pre-book seats will not be investigated by the Irish regulator, she confirmed.
The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is to probe the seat booking conduct of a number of airlines, not just Ryanair, but the Irish regulator does not have powers to do so, said Ms Mannion.
“I’d be interested in the outcome of the CAA investigation from a passenger point of view, but it’s not within our remit to do that investigation. From a commission point of view we don’t have a role,” she said.
Separated during flights
Ryanair argues that any increase in groups being separated during flights is down to an increasing number of passengers reserving aisle and window seats.
Meanwhile, the regulator supported a second runway at Dublin Airport to cope with rising traffic. The Commission is considering, too, a passengers’ levy to replenish the Travellers’ Protection Fund.
It now holds less than €2 million after settling €4 million worth of claims: “It’s either going to be some sort of charge, possibly, for passengers… or it could be a levy that’s raised on travel agents or tour operators,” she said.
The original fund had remained intact since the 1980s, when it was created over a period of two years by collecting €2 per customer who booked a tour operator package.