Thousands of Northern Ireland Ryanair customers have had their travel plans disrupted after the budget airline suspended its Belfast International to Gatwick service.
Former Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon and a Belfast-based choral society are among those left frustrated as the fallout from the airline’s mismanagement of pilot leave intensifies.
With four flights a day each way, more than 1,000 Belfast flights will have been cancelled between mid-October and next March when the service resumes. More than 30 other routes are affected – including London Stansted to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Newcastle to Faro, and Glasgow to Las Palmas.
The latest round of flight cancellations means that Ryanair will be able to “roster all of the extra pilot leave necessary” in October, November and December, a spokesman for the airline said. The disruption has cost Ryanair around €25 million to date.
The airline said the latest step will “eliminate all risk of further flight cancellations” and remove the risk of similar problems next year.
Zoe Salmon on Twitter said she was “not loving Ryanair” after her Belfast to Gatwick flight was cancelled, and added: “Have booked easyJet but for £100 more!”
A 60th anniversary trip to London by St Agnes’ Choral Society is now in jeopardy after the surprise announcement.
More than 40 members of the society were due to fly to Gatwick from Belfast on November 1 to see a revival of Broadway hit ‘42nd Street’ ahead of staging their own version in Belfast’s Grand Opera House next April.
The society’s chairman Gareth McGreevy said: “The flights, hotel and theatre tickets were all booked and paid for. There was a great buzz about the trip amongst the company but this news broke late last night with no advance warning. Any alternative arrangements are now costing over double the price leaving the trip in doubt for many.”
In a lengthy statement posted on its website, Ryanair pointed out that all those affected – fewer than 1% of its 50 million customers – will receive a €40 travel voucher.
Belfast woman Cathy McQuillan had booked to travel to London with her boyfriend in January.
The 34-year-old told the News Letter: “We are very disappointed because we had arranged to attend a family engagement. We had considered rebooking with another airline but the fares are now much more expensive because of the increase in demand, and so we can’t afford to go. Ryanair’s no frills approach has never bothered me before but this has really put me off travelling with the airline again in future.”
One Twitter user Stephen Hillis posted the message: “Dear @Ryanair we are done. I have offset your quirks against low price for years, but no longer. Staff and customer service are irrelevant to you”.
Another disgruntled customer tweeted: “When do I get my @Ryanair voucher? As I’d like to go through all this again in a few months time please.”
Scott Kennerley of the Consumer Council, said the Civil Aviation Authority should “take immediate enforcement action” to protect customers’ rights.
Mr Kennerley said that as Ryanair had given more than two weeks’ notice of the cancellations there is no entitlement to compensation. However, he added: “Affected passengers are entitled to a full refund within seven days or rerouting via alternative transportation at the earliest opportunity.”
• Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said in a statement: “We sincerely apologise to those customers who have been affected by last week’s flight cancellations, or these sensible schedule changes announced today.
“From today, there will be no more rostering related flight cancellations this winter or in summer 2018.
“Slower growth this winter will create lots of spare aircraft and crews which will allow us to manage the exceptional volumes of annual leave we committed to delivering in the nine months to December 2017. We will start a new 12-month leave period on Jan 1, 2018 in full compliance with EU regulations and the IAA’s requirements.”
The firm also said that it has scrapped plans to bid for bankrupt Italian airline Alitalia in order to “focus on repairing this rostering problem this winter”.