Ryanair has apologised to staff after claims they were forced to sleep overnight in a crew room after being stranded at Malaga Airport.
Four Ryanair crews, 24 people in total, spent the night in the room as it was the only one available because of storms in Portugal.
A photograph purporting to show six airline staff sleeping on the floor of the crew room was posted on the Facebook page Ryanair Must Change. The incident occurred on Saturday as Storm Leslie hit Portugal meaning that many flights had to be diverted to Spain.
A statement from Ryanair indicated that this picture is "clearly staged" and no crew slept on the floor. "Due to storms in Porto (13 Oct) a number of flights diverted to Malaga and as this was a Spanish national holiday, hotels were fully booked. The crew spent a short period of time in the crew room before being moved to a VIP lounge, and returned to Porto the next day (none of the crew operated flights)."
However, Portuguese union official Fernando Gandra – who is a former cabin crew member with Ryanair – said the airline’s European operations in Dublin were contacted late on Saturday night about arranging accommodation for the crews.
Mr Gandra said the photograph illustrates the conditions provided by Ryanair for crews’ rest on Saturday night/Sunday morning. He said the allegation that the photograph was staged was “completely irrevelant”.
“I’m not going to comment on whether it was staged or not. Only the people who were there can make that statement,” he said.
He added that what is relevant is the fact that 24 Ryanair crew had only eight chairs between them to sleep on Saturday night. “The only place they had available was the floor . . . The point is that Ryanair did not give their crews any place to rest.”
He added that 800 Ryanair passengers also spent the night in the terminal with nowhere to sleep or eat.
He also stated that all the other airlines affected by the storm in Portugal treated their passengers and crew properly. “Ryanair is the exception, not the rule,” he said.
The photograph was shared on Twitter by former Ryanair pilot Jim Atkinson who tweeted: "This is a Ryanair 737 crew based in Portugal, stranded in Malaga, Spain a couple of nights ago due to storms. They are sleeping on the floor of the Ryanair crew room. RYR is earning €1.25 billion this year but will not put stranded crews in a hotel for the night. @peterbellew?"
Peter Bellew is Ryanair's chief operations officer. He responded: "Unfortunately all hotels were completely booked out in Malaga. The storm created huge damage in Portugal. Later after this the crew moved to VIP lounge. Apologies to the crew we could not find accommodation."
Mr Atkinson then posted a couple of incredulous messages from Ryanair staff on a pilots’ WhatsApp group. “Off season? No hotels?!?! There are thousands of hotels along the gold cost (sic). All hotels sold out that probably cost less than 35 euro a night and gave a discount for taking the no breakfast tariff!”
Mr Atkinson said the experience of the Ryanair staff at Malaga Airport is a scenario “which is all too familiar for me having flown for Ryanair. Their mistreatment of staff is legendary, and being forced to recognise unions in the past year has only embittered Ryanair (Michael O’Leary) further”.
Mr Atkinson worked as a Ryanair pilot from 2006 to 2014. He has been a stern critic of the airline. He said the staff shortages last summer which caused thousands of flights to be grounded were the result of pilots leaving because of working conditions. The claim has been denied by Ryanair.
The duty manager at Lesma, Ryanair's groundhandlers at Malaga, who was tasked with finding alternative accommodation told the Ryanair crews there was nothing available.
Mr Gantra said: “It is not known if he had the authority to pay for these rooms on Rynair’s account and/or if he was under budget restrictions which would impede locating rooms.”
He said all the crews were flown back the following morning to Porto. When they asked the European operations headquarters in Dublin if they could have soft drinks and sandwiches courtesy of the airline, they were told that they could not.
A spokesman for Forsa, which represents Irish pilots, said the photograph raised “very serious” issues about the treatment of Ryanair staff.
He added: “It’s clearly unacceptable that flight crew aren’t properly accommodated in circumstances like these. Every member of the crew plays an important role in flight safety. In this instance, the facilities were inadequate to say the least. It’s undignified for the crew and compromises their health, safety and wellbeing.”