Anger over Ryanair's bid to limit payouts for passengers
CONSUMER watchdogs have slated Ryanair's decision to put a severe restriction on the level of expenses they will reimburse to stranded passengers in a "flagrant breach" of EU regulations.
Passengers stranded overseas will end up footing most of their own costs after the airline announced yesterday it would not pay the full accommodation and food expenses required under EC Regulation No 261/ 2004 when their flights are grounded.
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said in a statement that "while we will consider all passenger requests for reimbursement of reasonable receipted expenses over the past week, any such reimbursement will be limited to the original air fare paid by each passenger".
This means passengers who got free flights or paid token amounts such as €5 will get next to nothing back, although they could incur hundreds of euros in expenses as they wait for a Ryanair flight to bring them home tomorrow.
Aer Lingus did not respond to repeated queries yesterday as to whether it would meet its EU obligations on providing accommodation to stranded passengers, although they said last week at the start of the crisis that they would.
The Commission for Aviation Regulation said that enforcement bodies in Ireland and Europe would pursue Ryanair to get it to meet their legal obligations to pay accommodation and food costs for stranded customers.
"This is a flagrant breach of regulations and while we sympathise with the plight of airlines, the regulation is law and it is legally binding," said Patricia Barton of the commission.
The Consumers' Association of Ireland chief Dermott Jewell said the decision "flies in the face of what is required and it is vital that the EU and national authorities act speedily as people will be seriously out of pocket on this".
"We were afraid something like this would happen. Ryanair is seriously letting their customers down. I would appeal to other airlines not to follow suit and it is vital the EU Commission acts quickly on this challenge to the legislation," he said.
Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara defended the airline's decision: "Unlike some insurance companies, we are not washing our hands of our customers, and we are simply clarifying what we consider to be a reasonable level of reimbursement. The EU regulations were never designed for a situation like this," he said.
Ryanair's stance came as they and other low-fares airlines piled pressure on Brussels and EU governments to come to the rescue of cost-burdened carriers.
The European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) said carriers were facing "enormous costs and logistical challenges", and called on governments to step in to absorb the losses.
ELFAA's secretary general John Hanlon said EU rules that require airlines to reimburse, re-route and put up stranded passengers -- with no opt-out for natural disasters -- are crippling airlines.