Ryanair has made a dramatic climb down from an earlier decision to refuse to pay the hotel and food bills of passengers stranded by the ash cloud. Instead the budget carrier has bowed to passenger outrage following its flouting of strict EU regulation that requires coverage of costs.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary said: “While competitor ferry, coach and train operators are obliged to reimburse passengers reasonable expenses, this reimbursement is limited to the ticket price paid to those operators. Yet the airlines are required by regulation to meet potentially unlimited expenses, in circumstances where there has been a catastrophic closure of European airspace over the past seven days, as EU Governments and Regulators wrongly applied a blanket ban on flights over European airspace.
The airline confirmed that it was also operating a full schedule of flights between Ireland and Continental Europe and the UK and Continental Europe, together with a programme of extra flights from the UK and Ireland to Spain, Italy and the Canary Islands to re-accommodate passengers caught up in the disruption.
O’Leary had earlier told passengers his airline would not meet hotel and subsistence expenses incurred while they were stuck abroad, but just the original price of their air ticket.
The main European and international airline industry bodies have also attacked the regulations and demanded an urgent review on the basis that they were not intended for extraordinary situations such as the ash crisis.
Mike Carrivick, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR), which represents more than 90 airlines, said the relevant regulation was intended to apply when airlines had individual delays or cancellations. “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”.
The row came on an otherwise hopeful day, as air travel started to return to normal with flights coming in and out of Britain on a regular basis for the first time in almost a week.
Lord Adonis, had granted special permission for planes to land through the night at Heathrow. British Airways said it would take time to return to a full flying programme as many of its planes and crew were out of position.
The international airline association, IATA, says the volcano crisis has cost airlines more than $1.7bn in lost revenue.