Europe’s biggest airline could face regulatory action over “misleading” people on flight cancellation compensation

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Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair, is facing enforcement action from the the Civil Aviation Authority, Britain’s aviation regulator, for “persistently misleading” (pdf) passengers about their compensation rights following the cancellation of around 20,000 flights.

Yesterday (Sept. 27), Ryanair canceled 18,000 flights, on top of the 2,000 announced last week, because it didn’t properly schedule time off for its pilots. A recent change to the way it organizes vacations left the airline with a backlog of staff who need to take a holiday, leading to a shortage of pilots.

The CAA said in a statement that after both sets of cancellations, Ryanair failed to provide customers with “necessary and accurate” information about the fact that the carrier is obligated to refund all expenses incurred as a result of the flight cancellations. This includes accommodation and meals as well as transfer costs to re-route passengers on other airlines when no suitable alternative is available.

“There are clear laws in place, which are intended to assist passengers in the event of a cancellation, helping minimize both the frustration and inconvenience caused by circumstances completely out of their control. We have made this crystal clear to Ryanair, who are well aware of their legal obligations, which includes how and when they should reroute passengers, along with the level of information it provides its passengers. The information Ryanair published today again fails to makes this clear,” said Andrew Haines, CEO of the CAA.

“In expediting our enforcement action we are seeking to ensure that Ryanair’s customers will receive the correct and necessary information, to make an informed choice about an alternative flight,” he added.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said the carrier was “in correspondence with the CAA and have requested an early meeting to address their concerns.”

Customers are entitled to apply for compensation under certain conditions under EU law, as detailed by MoneySavingExpert.com. For example, passengers that find their flights canceled are entitled to €250 ($294) for short-haul, €440 for medium-haul, and €600 for long-haul flights, depending on when they were told of the cancellation. Passengers who reach their destination more than three hours late can also claim compensation of between €200 to €600.

However, in Ryanair’s first statement (which has since been taken down at the time of writing this article) the issue of compensation entitlements was not explicitly explained. Instead, the airline only laid out the options of taking a refund or an alternative flight with Ryanair. At the bottom, it linked to a document of the rules on EU Regulation 261/2004.

Ryanair’s second statement, following yesterday’s larger round of cancellations, was more detailed with the information regarding cancelled flights and routes, and has a large QA portion where it said that customers who will be affected by a cancellation will receive an email.

However, the CAA said, “in announcing thousands more cancellations to its scheduled program, the airline has again failed to provide customers with the necessary and accurate information relating to their passenger rights, particularly around rerouting and care and assistance entitlements, which includes expenses.”