Ryanair has said it will not pay compensation due under EU rules because 'flight cancellations were caused by extraordinary circumstances' © Reuters
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Ryanair is at it again. Travellers have been hit by hundreds of cancellations of flights this summer, ruining thousands of holidays. As if the disruption wasn’t bad enough, passengers face a battle for compensation.

Last year, cancellations were due to an issue over pilot rostering. This year, cabin crew and pilots are striking.

By August 10 it was estimated that tens of thousands of Ryanair passengers had been caught in the chaos. While some people may sympathise with the strikers, most travellers won’t care why their flights were cancelled: their priority will be to save their trip and get redress.

Ryanair, though, maintains that it will not pay the compensation due under EU rules. “As these flight cancellations were caused by extraordinary circumstances, no compensation is due,” the airline said.

It claims that under EU legislation, “no compensation is payable when the union is acting unreasonably and beyond the airline’s control. If this was within our control, there would be no cancellations”.

Considering the problems, customers may vow to avoid Ryanair . . . but it is Europe’s biggest carrier and people like the low fares. It’s not rocket science, Ryanair: increase prices slightly, pay staff better and, hey presto, customers get a more reliable service.

Amid last year’s cancellations, Ryanair also said it would not pay EU compensation. The UK Civil Aviation Authority expedited enforcement action for “persistently misleading passengers with inaccurate information regarding their rights” and the airline caved in.

I asked the CAA if it planned to do anything similar this time but it declined to say. It did say, however, that court rulings on compensation applied even though the latest strike was not by Ryanair’s UK employees.

“When a flight cancellation is caused by strike action by the airline’s employees, the airline is required to pay compensation to passengers in respect of the cancellation of the flight, if it has not warned passengers of the cancellation at least two weeks prior to the scheduled time of departure,” it said in a statement.

It added: “Passengers must submit their claim to the airline. If they are not satisfied with the response, they can seek redress via the approved alternative dispute resolution service.”

For the avoidance of doubt, here are your rights:

• Passengers can get up to €600 compensation if a flight is delayed, cancelled or you are denied boarding. In most cases, the amount will be €250 per passenger.

• Compensation for delays is only due on flights in the EU or when using an EU airline arriving three hours or more late. The amount depends on the length of delay, the notice you were given and flight distance.

• If you accept a full refund and don’t travel, you are not entitled to EU compensation.

• If a flight is cancelled, the airline must offer an alternative flight or full refund.

• If a delay lasts two hours or more, the airline must look after you by providing food and drinks and access to a phone and email.

• If you are delayed overnight, it must give you accommodation and travel to/from the hotel.

• If your flight is delayed by more than five hours and you no longer want to travel, the airline must give a full refund.

If you are reading this thinking “I had no idea I was entitled to that”, don’t despair, you have six years to bring a claim. There’s a lot more detail on the Complaining Cow website.

Should an airline refuse a payout, passengers can take their claim to an alternative dispute resolution scheme. The main two are CEDR and Aviation ADR (Ryanair is a member of the latter) and airlines are bound by their decisions.

Aviation ADR has come under fire from Which? for poor performance. With that in mind, Ryanair passengers may wish to go straight to seeking legal redress — but both dispute resolution and legal action can be avoided with a strong complaint to the airline in question.

To increase your chances of an award, I suggest:

1) Write to the airline’s chief executive. Find their details on www.CEOemail.com. Your email should reach an executive team and not elicit a fob-off from customer services.

2) State that the CAA has made it clear that airline strikes are covered by EU rule 261/2004.

3) Quote Helga Krüsemann and Others v TUIfly, in which a judge said strikes by employees are not “extraordinary”.

4) If your delay affected a connecting flight, quote Claudia Wegener v Royal Air Maroc. The European Court of Justice ruled that airlines must compensate passengers who miss a connecting flight and arrive more than three hours late at a non-EU destination.

5) Be clear and concise. Provide your name, address, flight number, date and time, and booking reference. Send copies of receipts.

6) Remember that every passenger can claim.

For some airlines it may be better to threaten legal action. For Ryanair, use the Irish small claims court online. For UK airlines, use Money Claim Online. Take screen shots from the process to show you mean business.

Remember, by using the procedure above you avoid third party complaints companies — and keep all of any compensation.

Helen Dewdney is a consumer campaigner behind the Complaining Cow website, and the author of ‘How to Complain: The essential consumer guide to getting refunds, redress and results’. Twitter: @ComplainingCow

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