Ryanair strikes: What to do if your flight is cancelled

Will your flight be cancelled in the latest round of proposed Ryanair strikes? And if it is, what can you do about it? Here’s everything you need to know.

Who is threatening to strike and why?

Pilots employed by Ryanair in the UK and Ireland have called 48-hour strikes starting on 22 August in a parallel dispute over a range of issues, from rosters to pensions.

Common to both the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) and its Irish counterpart, Ialpa, is a sense that Ryanair is dragging its heels in negotiations and not taking their grievances seriously.

Ryanair, meanwhile, maintains that its pilots are well rewarded, and lambasts the unions for what it says threatening passengers holidays through greed – in one case claiming a senior captain is seeking a 101 per cent raise in annual pay that is around £170,000.

Today, a court in Dublin ordered the Irish pilots to work normally. But the threat of UK action remains; Ryanair is today seeking an injunction to stop the strike through the High Court in London.

While both sides blame the other, the passenger is caught in the middle.

In addition, cabin crew in Portugal have begun a five-day strike from Wednesday 21 August, but so far it appears to have had no effect on Ryanair operations.

Will I be affected by Portuguese cabin crew strikes?

A strike by Portuguese cabin crew working for budget airline Ryanair is causing little impact, with only some minor delays reported. 

Portugal’s National Union of Civil Aviation Cabin Crew called the five-day walkout beginning Wednesday to protest what it alleges is Ryanair’s non-compliance with Portuguese labour laws, including holiday pay and days off. 

The airline switched many passengers to other flights before the strike, and the Portuguese government enacted a law forcing the cabin crew to work on a stipulated number of flights because the walkout came during the busy summer holiday period and could have caused chaos.

Would a strike from British and Irish pilots shut down the airline?

Far from it. Ryanair’s British and Irish pilots comprise less than 30 per cent of the total. Many of the UK and Ireland-based flight crew are employed indirectly through service companies, and will not strike. And while the majority in the pilots’ strike ballots were strongly in favour of industrial action, some did not vote or voted against.

There is also some history of groups of aviation workers voting overwhelmingly to strike, on the basis that it will strengthen the unions’ hands, but then not following through and stopping work.

The Independent estimates that around 500,000 bookings are potentially at risk – but also that the majority of passengers will fly as normal. The trouble is not knowing which flights will be grounded.

Might Ryanair bring in other pilots – or even planes?

Without inside information from the duty office at the airline’s HQ, it is difficult to know what staff redeployment might be possible. This is Ryanair’s busiest-ever summer, and there is little slack in the system. Furthermore, the Irish airline has been accused by unions in Belgium of attempting to use staff based in other countries to cover for striking workers, so any such move may not prove successful.

Airlines often “wet-lease” other aircraft – plus crew – to cover for industrial action. But this summer the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 Max means capacity is extremely stretched.

How and when will I learn about the fate of my flight?

In previous bouts of industrial action, Ryanair has notified affected passengers two or three days in advance. This strike is different, though: with the court cases being heard today, only one day before the proposed strike, the emails and text messages will be sent out very close to departure for some passengers.

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My flight has been cancelled. When and how should I book an alternative?

Only book a flight (or alternative transport such as trains) yourself if and when the following conditions are met: 

  1. Ryanair tells you the flight is cancelled. The instant options are likely to be for a full refund (including of the homeward leg if you have booked a return) and rebooking on another Ryanair flight. If the airline can offer you a flight with a similar timing, which it may be able to do on some popular routes, then accept it.
  2. If no Ryanair flight is available the same day, then invite the airline to fulfil its obligation to book an alternative flight on a rival carrier – this could be by phone or through Ryanair’s Live Chat facility. Keep a record of conversations. If the airline chooses not to do so, say that you will be buying a ticket yourself, cancelling the original reservation and then reclaiming the difference in cost from Ryanair.
  3. You retain evidence as you search for an alternative – for example of British Airways saying a particular flight is business-class only. If it is the only remaining seat, you are entitled to it. Then cancel your Ryanair booking for a full refund, and ask the airline for the extra cost of your trip.

Ryanair has offered a flight the following day which I am happy with. But who pays for the hotel and meals while I wait?

The airline. The rules require it to organise a room for you. If it does not, you should book a hotel and claim it back – along with reasonable meal expenses (no alcohol) while you wait.

What if there are simply no seats on any airline that would work for me?

If your trip is rendered pointless, all you can do is claim a refund – and compensation. 

According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which says every passenger whose flight is cancelled is entitled to €250 (£230) or €400 (£360) in cash compensation under European air passengers’ rights rules.

But Ryanair says strikes are beyond its control and will not be paying.

What about other costs: hotels and car rentals that I have booked separately?

They are known as “consequential losses” and are not generally covered by airlines – who will direct you to your travel insurers.

If your travel insurance policy does not cover them, then it is worth asking the suppliers – particularly family-run hotels – if they will allow you to defer the trip.

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