Jitters in the City as Ryanair defies EU compensation laws

Consumer group building dossier of evidence against low-cost airline's refusal to obey new rules on assisting delayed passengers
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A consumer group has accused Ryanair of deliberately flouting new European laws that require airlines to compensate customers for cancelled or delayed flights.

A consumer group has accused Ryanair of deliberately flouting new European laws that require airlines to compensate customers for cancelled or delayed flights.

The Air Transport Users Group (ATUG) is building a dossier of evidence against the low-cost airline, which it plans to hand over to the aviation regulator in the coming months.

The Civil Aviation Authority has the power to fine Ryanair £5,000 for every individual breach of the European law and the ATUG claims to have received 50 complaints from customers already.

Under the European rules, which came into effect in February, airlines must offer meals and free phone calls for flights delayed by up to four hours. If the delay continues overnight then customers are entitled to hotel accommodation. Controversially, the airlines must offer the assistance even if they are not responsible for the delay.

James Freemantle, industry affairs advisor at the ATUG, said that many Ryanair customers had written to complain that the company had refused to offer meals and hotel accommodation. "Ryanair appears to have taken it upon itself to refuse assistance. That is clearly a breach and we are gathering together evidence for future action against the airline," said Mr Freemantle.

Under the European rules, if there is a delay to a flight then the airline is also required to past an information leaflet to customers spelling out their rights.

Ryanair's leaflet brands the rules "illogical and unjust" and warns passengers that, "Ryanair will not provide compensation for meals, etc, as our services do not include meals/ snacks on board and nor do our low fares".

Ryanair also fails to put contact details for the ATUC on the leaflet - also required under the EU rules. Mr Freemantle predicted that if Ryanair did, then the number of complaints to the ATUC would mushroom.

Tomorrow, the pressure on Ryanair to comply will intensify when the Irish regulator, the Commission for Aviation Regulation, opens its doors to customer complaints.

When asked to comment on why it was disregarding the EU rules, a com-pany spokeswoman said: "Ryan- air, like all other European airlines, is doing its best to deal with this legislative morass, pending the outcome of a legal challenge of the regulation by the International Air Transport Association and the European Low Fares Airline Association. Many of the complaints received by Ryanair are the result of internal conflicts in the legislation and erroneous information released by the European Commission, which has made a bad situation worse."

Ryanair's refusal to comply with the rules is starting to worry the City. In a report to investors last week, investment bank ABN Amro said that Ryanair's stance could weaken sentiment in the stock.

The news follows the negative publicity generated last year when Ryanair lost an appeal against a decision that it must provide free wheelchairs for disabled passengers.

Other low-cost airlines are also against the EU rules. An easyJet spokesman said: "We are opposing them very strongly because we shouldn't have to put someone up in a £100-a-night hotel if we have not caused the delay."

The International Air Transport Association has predicted that the rules will cost the airline industry some €600m (£401m) a year.

But unlike Ryanair, other airlines are abiding by the rules. The easyJet spokesman added: "We have to comply, because it has been passed into European law and accepted by the UK Government.

"Ryanair's position is like saying: 'I am appealing against having to drive at 70mph on the motorway, so in the meantime I will drive at 90.' "