Saturday 18 August 2018

Opinion: Passengers hit by Ryanair strikes deserve to know if they'll get compensation

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Stock picture

Anne-Marie Walsh

Thousands of Ryanair passengers whose flights were scrapped due to strikes deserve to know if a €250 cheque will be winging its way to them some time soon.

The Irish Commission for Aviation Regulation has not revealed whether it received any appeals by customers who were refused compensation by the budget airline yet, or if it has, whether they were upheld.

But the UK organisation that processes claims said the budget airline's passengers are the winners so far when it comes to the complaints it has dealt with.

AviationADR said its adjudicators haven't seen any evidence so far to change its position that passengers are entitled to compensation due to cancellations or delays caused by the strikes.

Ryanair is adamant that it is not liable to pay compensation, which can be sought even if the strike-afflicted get a refund or an alternative flight. But it could face a sky-high bill if regulators find the strikes by its staff are unexceptional.

So far 170,000 customers have been hit by the industrial action across Europe, and around 17,500 of these were booked on flights between Ireland and the UK.

If the affected customers in Ireland look for compensation, the airline could face a hefty bill of more than €4m. If you're including the aggrieved across Europe, it could rise to tens of millions of euro.

Insiders said all regulators may discuss the case with each other. "There's a lot at stake here," they said. "It's the biggest airline in Europe and the biggest event of its kind. I'd expect Ryanair will be challenging it all the way."

Last month, the UK Civil Aviation Authority announced that an airline is required to pay compensation when a flight cancellation is due to a strike by an airline's employees, if it has not warned passengers two weeks in advance. To be fair to Ryanair, it hasn't been given a fortnight's notice in many cases. Barrister Dean Dunham, at AviationADR, which processes the complaints, said so far all those relating to strikes at Ryanair have been determined in favour of the passenger.

He said this was mainly because it saw no evidence to show there were "extraordinary circumstances". Ryanair is legally obliged to comply with its decisions, he added.

However, he said Ryanair is submitting further evidence that will be reviewed as new complaints come in. Compensation may help to ease passengers' frayed tempers. Pilots are still getting a lot of beeps from passing cars at the picket lines. But some people are seriously unimpressed.

"I read that Ryanair pilots, based in Dublin, earn between €150,000 and €200,000 per year," tweeted former 'Mrs Brown's Boys' actor Rory Cowan.

"I'd find it hard to stand in solidarity with people earning those amounts of monies going on strike and disrupting passengers' holidays. Probably their only holiday this year too, ruined."

A letter from Ryanair's chief operations officer Peter Bellew to Vereingung Cockpit's policy lawyer, Tanja Viehl, last Tuesday, seen by Independent.ie, claimed the pilots in Germany sought pay rises of up to 62pc, although the claim was later dropped.

It said this was made up of a 42pc pay hike and 20pc increase already agreed.

The union's spokesman, Janis Schmitt, challenged the claims and said it never mentioned percentages. He said it wants fewer variable elements to wages, like other European airlines.

Ryanair would not produce evidence to show the pilots sought the increase, when asked for some. "We do not comment on ongoing negotiations with our people," said a spokesperson.

Next week, a fresh pair of eyes belonging to mediator Kieran Mulvey will hopefully get to the heart of this row.

Less than a year after recognising unions, industrial relations novice Ryanair has tried out most approaches for size.

It has given talks and pay hikes a bash. It has issued protective notice of job cuts to staff, sent mixed messages to striking cabin crew about the potential impact on their promotion opportunities, and taken legal action. Pilots had focused their anger on Ryanair's HQ at Airside but yesterday moved their picket to the airport roundabout. On Monday, they will all return to the negotiating table at Terminal One.

Irish Independent

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