'Thanks to Ryanair, my chances of spending Christmas with my family are slim...'
Flight cancellation crisis
Delara Oguzhan is one of hundreds of thousands of passengers whose Ryanair flights have been cancelled. This is her story.
"I had to request this Christmas leave in August 2016, which is just crazy," says a frustrated Delara Oughzan. "I fought for that time off!"
Delara (25) grew up in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone.
Now working in London, last year was the first Christmas she missed at home ("I was devastated"), and she was determined not to miss it again.
"My Dad passed away 11 years ago last January, so it's an emotional time for my mum, brother and myself. The three of us like to be together. But even when he was alive, we made a point of getting together, basing Christmas around our family."
This year, she got on the case early. More than a year early, in fact - booking her annual leave for December 21-27 some 13 months ago.
She planned the trip to a tee, booking return Ryanair flights from Gatwick to Belfast International for £112 (€126), along with her coach tickets to the airport.
Fast forward to this week when, flicking through her Facebook feed, Delara noticed a news story about the airline's latest wave of flight cancellations.
In an effort to iron out its "rostering failure", Ryanair announced that it would be cancelling thousands more flights between November and March, affecting 400,000 passengers. Belfast to London Gatwick was among the suspended routes.
"That's where I heard the news. On Facebook. Not from Ryanair themselves! I immediately tried calling them, but couldn't get through at all!"
Delara called her Mum at home. Only after checking her booking on the Ryanair app was she able to confirm that the flight was cancelled.
"A a couple of hours later, I finally received an email from them."
The email offered the option of a refund or re-routing (because she received more than 14 days notice, the airline was not obliged to offer compensation).
Delara finally got through to Ryanair's customer service that evening. A re-routing was her preference, to get home for Christmas. Then she learned that all flights between Belfast and London-Gatwick had been suspended from November to March.
What about a re-routing to Dublin?
She couldn't be re-routed to that city, a three-hour drive from Aughnacloy, Delara was told, because "it's not the original destination." Later, she would be told it was because Dublin "is not in the same country."
"I was annoyed. I wasn't rude. I wasn't screaming or anything, but while I was explaining that re-routing was no use... he just hung up!
"I was furious! I was probably one of thousands of people they had to talk to that day, but there was no real sympathy. I then had to wait another half an hour, this time on the live chat service to get through to someone who told me the same things."
Ryanair has apologised sincerely for disruption to passengers, and says over 90pc of the 400,000 customers affected by this week's flight cancellations have been "re-accommodated/refunded".
In the end, Delara opted for a refund, and is currently sitting out a seven-day waiting period before the airline returns the £112 to her.
In the meantime, Christmas travel prices are rising.
This week, Ryanair also announced that it would send customers affected by rostering-related cancellations a £40/€40 voucher for each cancelled flight.
For Delara, that's worth £80 (€90). Has it helped her case?
"It's a nice gesture, but I can't use it when I actually need it," she says.
The vouchers are only redeemable on flights from November to March 2018, and cannot be used towards flights from December 20 to January 7.
"These are the terms and conditions of the voucher," Ryanair confirms.
"It has to be used on a booking made in October 2017 and it cannot be used during the Christmas period!" Delara says. "So that doesn't help me at all... my leave is booked over these dates and I don't have any left to take before next March."
Delara is keen to stress that she's just one affected passenger, that her story isn't more important than any other, and that many customers are in worse situations - "who could be travelling for medical reasons, for work, or for other personal reasons".
"But I feel really frustrated, distressed and completely inconvenienced. The rostering issue is completely on Ryanair. It's nobody's fault but their own.
"My chances of spending Christmas with my family are slim now and that's on Ryanair. There's no twist to this. It's just about me spending Christmas with my family. That's all I wanted, all I fought for at work.
"Mine is just one story. They're ruining it for a lot of people."
"This customer was fully refunded for her cancelled flight.
"We are currently dealing with high volumes of traffic on our website, live chat and call centre and we ask customers to bear with us as we do all we can to re-accommodate them.
"All customers affected by these schedule changes have been contacted and advised of their options, and the full list of affected flights is published on Ryanair.com."