THE COMMISSION OF Aviation Regulation (CAR) said the first they heard of Ryanair’s flight cancellations was on social media and news reports.
Representatives from the regulator and the Irish Air Line Pilots Association are in front of the Oireachtas Transport Committee today to discuss the fallout and impact on customers of the mass cancellations of flights in recent weeks by the budget airline.
Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary was also invited, but declined to attend today’s hearing. ”It is an insult they haven’t come,” Solidarity-PBP’s Mick Barry told the committee.
The airline cancelled 2,100 flights between September and October and a further 18,000 between November and March, as a result of what it said is a rostering issue.
Yesterday, members of the European Parliament tore into Ryanair, criticising it on numerous fronts for its treatment of its workers and passengers.
Heard about cancellations through social media
Cathy Mannion, Commissioner of the CAR, said when the first wave of cancellations occurred, it was not informed. She told the committee that the commission were only made aware of the news “through observing social media and news reports”.
She said it was clear Ryanair “took their eye of the ball when it came to passengers’ rights” and were too concerned with dealing with their own internal difficulties.
Mannion said the commission had to seek out engagement with the company, however, when information was sought, it was given.
She said when Ryanair began cancelling flights, the passenger was the regulator’s primary concern.
Mannion said the airline “made limited reference” to passengers’ rights, which is why they regulator said it told Ryanair they needed to comply with regulations and inform customers as a matter of urgency about their compensation rights.
She criticised the airline for not issuing a list of flights cancelled in a timely fashion and for also sending out misinformation in one email, which included a list of flights that were not impacted.
The commissioner said they were not informed or shown the information the airline was sending out to customers in advance, adding that it was not presented in a clear manner that customers could understand.
Bookings on rival airlines
Mannion also queried why the airline took so long to tell customers that they would be booked on to rival airlines.
“We knew they had partnerships in the background with other airlines… for the life of me I couldn’t understand it,” she said, adding Ryanair has several partnership deals with airlines such as EasyJet and Aer Lingus.
She said if a similar incident were to happen again, she would do everything the same again.
Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster said that was not something customers wanted to hear, stating that clearly the airline did not take the regulator seriously. Mannion said if Ryanair or any airline can foresee that an event of this kind is going to occur, it would be ideal for it to inform the regulator in advance.
Instead, she said it was the case that the regulator “had to chase” the airline in terms of how it was going to look after its customers.
“Surely to God there is regulations in place that an airline must seek advice in advance,” said Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy.
However, he was informed there is no obligation for the airline to inform the regulator about the cancellation of flights.
“This wasn’t unplanned – this was planned – how long in advance did they know about this?” he asked.
Captain James Courtney of the Irish Airline Association said the issue of the roster changes that were required under EU regulation was communicated with both Ryanair and Aer Lingus.
Courtney said due to Ryanair being a larger airline, it worked with the airline to ensure that it was making the necessary changes. He said the airline was given a deadline of over a year to implement the roster overhaul.
“We have done numerous audits and there was no indication there was a problem with missing the target,” he said. He added that airline did not ask for any derogation of the target and have not asked for an extension to it.
He added that how the airline planned to meet the target would be a “commercial decision” for the airline.
Solidarity-PBP Mick Barry said he was disappointed in the contributions given to the committee today. He said the airline industry is operating under “light touch regulation” which do not hold airlines to account.
Mannion said the commission will hold Ryanair ”fully to account” to ensure they deal with their customer claims and the rights of the passenger appropriately.
Maurice O’Connor of the Irish Aviation Authority said Ryanair is fully compliant with all safety regulations and said he has not received any reports about pilots turning up to work fatigued.