Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fury as Ryanair refuses to pay stranded passengers' costs.

The skies around Osterley are once more filling with planes as the fallout from the Icelandic volcanic eruption finally appears to be coming to an end.

However, Ryanair are now trying to get out of having to pay for the hotel bills of customers who were left stranded at destinations all over the world.

The budget airline Ryanair today sparked a furious response from politicians and risked a consumer backlash by refusing to pay the hotel and food bills of passengers stranded by the volcanic ash cloud, in a blatant refusal to abide by strict EU consumer rules.

As Britain's skies opened for business at last after a catastrophic six-day shutdown, the carrier's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, told passengers his airline would not meet hotel and subsistence expenses incurred while they were stuck abroad. Ryanair would reimburse travellers the original price of their air fare and no more, he said.

Europe-wide regulations demand that airlines provide food and drinks and hotel accommodation if appropriate when passengers are stranded. There are no time or monetary limits on the commitment, which Ryanair repeats on its website. Pressed on the legality of his stance, O'Leary challenged Ireland's airline regulator, the Commission for Aviation Regulation, to take him to court. It is estimated Ryanair's stance could affect as many as 400,000 passengers, and potentially save the airline millions of pounds.

I have listened for days to people talking about relatives "stuck in the Maldives", with the clear implication that this is a nice situation in which to find oneself "stuck".

However, I thought most people were missing the point here. Whenever I go on holiday I take a certain amount of spending money. Over the last six days I have been thinking that these people stranded will have certainly spent whatever funds they took away with them, and will probably now be charging everything they need to credit cards.

Ryanair are now insisting that these individuals also take on the additional hotel costs which were run up whilst they were unable to get off whatever island they found themselves stuck on.

Mike Carrivick, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR), which represents more than 90 airlines including British Airways, Virgin and BMI, said the relevant regulation was intended to apply when airlines had individual delays or cancelled flights. "It was never intended to apply to wholesale shutdown of the airways system imposed by governmental rulings and without any limitation of time."

The regulations, said the BAR, were "draconian, disproportionate and impractical".

O'Leary said: "There's no legislation designed that says any airline getting a fare of €30 should be reimbursing passengers many thousands of euros for hotel accommodation. It's absurd. I don't have a problem with everything being grounded for a day or two but there should have been a much faster response by the governments and transport ministers and by the regulators. This is one of these issues we want addressed – why exactly are the airlines expected to be reimbursing people's hotels, meals and everything else when the governments are the ones who made a balls of this?"

I can see the point which is being made here. If the individual airline is not responsible for the cancellation, why should they pay the price for the delayed persons accommodation?

But I also know that if I was the person being delayed I would greatly object to being asked to pay for my own imprisonment, even if it was on a sunny island somewhere.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said the airline's position would make passengers think twice about future travel with Ryanair.

"This is shocking behaviour and rubs salt into the wounds for those who have been stranded overseas," he said.

Whether one thinks the rule fair or not, it was a promise which Ryanair had publicly made. It was also one which they advertise on their website.

They are really pushing their luck with the public to refuse to honour such a deal at this time. People are angry enough that they have been stranded in places where they no longer wished to be for the past six days, asking them to also foot the bill seems, to me, to be asking for outrage.

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