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Join Ryanair! See the world! But we'll only pay you for nine months a year

Glamorous myth of the flight attendant lifestyle undermined by angry employee's claims of 'exploitation'

They tend to look pretty miserable, and now perhaps we will understand why. A former member of Ryanair's cabin crew has blown the whistle on the conditions of work at Europe's largest budget airline.

Sophie Growcoot contacted her local MP to reveal that her employment contract with Crewlink, a contractor for Ryanair:

* Forced her to take three months compulsory unpaid leave a year – in the quiet winter months – during which she would be forbidden to take another job but receive no money.

* Made her pay £360 for a Ryanair uniform. She had to pay another £1,800 towards a mandatory safety course.

* Only paid her for the hours that she was actually "in the air". She was not paid for pre-flight briefings, turnaround time between flights, sales meetings and time on the ground due to delays and flight cancellations. The hourly flying rate was just £13.07 an hour with no contractual review for three years.

* Paid her for only four days work a week. On the fifth she was expected to be on call and to turn up for work with an hour's notice. Standby days were not paid unless she was called in to work.

On one occasion, the 20-year-old from Liverpool said she was on standby when she was called at 4am and asked to come in to work for a flight from Liverpool to Dublin. She paid £10 to get a taxi to the airport because there was no public transport. But when she arrived, the flight was cancelled because so few passengers were booked on it. Ms Growcoot claimed she was sent home without payment or even an apology.

Raising the issue in the House of Commons, Luciana Berger accused the company of "ruthlessly" exploiting staff and helping the company achieve record profits of nearly half a billion pounds. She also accused the Ryanair chief executive, Michael O'Leary, of profiting on the backs of poorly treated staff.

"This is exploitation by Ryanair – pure and simple," she said. "It's outrageous that an airline that reported record profits last year doesn't pay its staff for all the time they are at work. How can Michael O'Leary think it is fair or acceptable for his company to be profiting on the backs of exploited cabin crew like Sophie?"

Ms Growcoot told The Independent she felt she had been "lured" into signing her employment contract with Crewlink, which supplies Ryanair's cabin crews, without being told the full details.

"I was really excited about joining Ryanair's cabin crew at first, but it was a total nightmare," she said. "I couldn't believe it when I learnt I wouldn't be paid for all the time I was working.

"We'd be paid only when the wheels were moving, so I didn't get a penny for turnaround between flights or the hours when flights were delayed or cancelled.

"The recruiters knew exactly what they were doing. The charges kept getting bigger and bigger, but I couldn't say no as there aren't any other jobs out there. I felt completely trapped." A copy of Ms Growcoot's contract, seen by The Independent, appears to back her claims. In addition, it states that should an employee leave within the first 15 months of employment, they would be liable for a €200 administration fee.

A Ryanair spokesman said: “We are surprised by Ms Berger’s statement in the House of Commons, since this person was not employed by Ryanair, but by a contractor company, Crewlink Ltd, and appears to have left their employment without notice after just two months. We are also surprised that Ms Berger made no effort to verify these false claims with Ryanair before using her House of Commons privilege to make false accusations.”

Hot air: Ryanair shot down

Ash cloud compensation

The Icelandic volcanic ash cloud caused chaos in 2010 when aircraft across Europe were grounded. But one disgruntled passenger tried to make a compensation claim against Ryanair after being stranded for nine days. The company broke EU law by refusing to pay out £942 to cover meals and accommodation.

False location airports

The airline opened the Paris-Vatry-Disney airport as a gateway for Disneyland – 90 miles from Paris and 70 miles from the theme park. The airline also valiantly pushed to keep the name of "Dusseldorf" airport, even though it is 40 miles from the city.

Baggage checker reward

In 2011 it was revealed that Ryanair workers were given 50p for everyone they spotted trying to take oversized hand luggage on board a plane.

Gerard Brand