TENS of thousands of intending Ryanair passengers could find their bookings cancelled over the coming days.
The airline yesterday said it would annul all bookings made through third party websites. In a move described as "totally unreasonable" by the Consumers' Association, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said the new policy would apply to anyone travelling after next Monday.
The hardline stance affects anyone who booked their Ryanair flights through websites like lastminute.com, v-tours, tui and Opodo.
About 1,000 people use these websites to book Ryanair flights every day, which means 20,000 passengers will be affected by the clampdown if bookings are made an average of 20 days in advance.
Ryanair will give refunds to all of the websites involved, Mr O'Leary said, but passing on those refunds to intending passengers would be a matter for the websites.
"We want to cause as much chaos for the [websites] as possible," he said.
"It is a totally unreasonable position to take," Consumers Association vice chairman Michael Kilcoyne said last night.
"The customer has made those bookings in good faith. If they have to now make new bookings at the last minute they could end up paying ten times as much.
"This is just Ryanair's way of extracting more money from customers, it seems the airline can do whatever they like and no-one can stop them."
A spokesman for Ryanair confirmed the airline had taken legal advice on the move, and was within its rights. Mr O'Leary also stressed that passengers were "getting stiffed" by these websites as their prices were invariably higher than those available on ryanair.com.
"The real issue here in our view is that Ryanair is concerned about losing out on the sale of other services such as travel insurance, hotels, car hire and to stop this they want to prevent consumers from using comparison websites," the Consumers Association countered in a statement.
The latest move represents Ryanair's fiercest stance yet in its desire to drive all its sales through Ryanair.com, and comes after years of legal battles between Ryanair and websites that incorporate the airline's booking engine into their own pages, in a process known as 'screen scraping'.
Outlining the airline's objection to screen-scraping earlier this week, Ryanair deputy chief executive Howard Millar said, "genuine passengers using Ryanair's website have been suffering long processing times and slower access because of the huge volume of information being downloaded from our website by these screenscrapers all over Europe".