Ryanair first as O'Leary backs down

Ryanair will pay stranded passengers' expenses, despite earlier threatening to cut them off.

Last Updated: 19 Sep 2012

The customer is always right, goes the traditional business maxim. Unless you’re flying Ryanair of course, in which case you know that should anything go wrong you won’t get so much as a luncheon voucher.

But even the famously uncompromising Michael O’Leary apparently has his limits - after briefly flirting with the idea of leaving Ryanair passengers stranded by the ash cloud to fend for themselves, the airline has backed down. In a statement this morning, it said it will now comply with its legal duty to cover food and accommodation expenses until customers can be flown home.

Students of Ryanair – and we know there are lots of you out there – will recognise this as a very rare occurrence. We can’t remember the last time O’Leary caved in on an issue of his firm’s robust approach to customer care, even when the law is against him. His stock response to such complaints being ‘You’re not getting a refund, so f*** off.’

Originally O’Leary said yesterday that Ryanair had no intention of complying with EU Regulation 261, which entitles passengers to sustenance and shelter until another flight is available. Not only that, he also said it would not honour claims for compensation.

But today he has changed his tune, and Ryanair now says it will reimburse reasonable receipted expenses. He’s not giving in gracefully, however, maintaining that the regulation is ‘absurd and discriminatory’; the statement also insists that ‘passengers are not entitled to compensation, as the closure of European airspace over the past seven days was beyond the control of European airlines’.

While it’s hard to raise much sympathy for O’Leary, it must be said that Ryanair was not alone in making these threats – Jet2 and BMI both told Channel 4 News last night that they would not be shelling out any more money, either.

But even the unshameable O’Leary perhaps realised that threatening to cut off funds for passengers’ food and water and see them turfed out of hotel rooms, was playing a dangerous game. If the thought of all that bad PR wasn’t enough (and it has never stopped him in the past) then perhaps the months, even years of litigation that might follow was enough to make him reconsider. Easier and perhaps even cheaper just to pay up and move on.

Despite all this, for once we think O’Leary might have a point - safety must always be the priority, but it does seem that the air traffic regulators were  ‘too cautious’ as Transport Secretary Lord Adonis admitted yesterday – especially as the UK was one of the few countries to enact a zero tolerance approach to flying through the ash.  So we can understand his reluctance to cough up for a mess that is not (entirely) of his own making.

Anyone who thinks that this concession is the dawn of a new munificent era of caring and sharing at Ryanir should probably think again however. It’s not Europe’s most profitable airline because of its generous terms and conditions, after all.  


In today's bulletin:

Borrowing hits record high, but could boost Labour...
Ryanair first as O'Leary backs down
Punctual Deutsche Bahn punches Arriva's ticket for £1.6bn
No more bribes, say foreign firms in Russia
Pearl & Dean: the reel deal?

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