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Ryanair strikes: all you need to know about pilots' five days of action

Ryanair passengers are facing the prospect of five days of disruption in late August and early September after talks to avert strike action by UK-based pilots broke down. Here’s everything that customers need to know.

When are Ryanair pilots going on strike?

Ryanair pilots who are members of Balpa, the British pilots’ trade union, have voted to stage five days of strikes in the peak summer holiday period. They plan a 48-hour strike from 00:01 on 22 August until 23.59 on 23 August, and a 72-hour strike from 00:01 on 2 September until 23.59 on 4 September.

Which flights will be affected?

It’s not possible to say in detail, but the fact that the striking pilots are all based in the UK indicates that flights to and from UK airports will be the only ones affected. That suggests that passengers using Stansted, Ryanair’s main UK base, can expect some disruption.

Not all Ryanair pilots are Balpa members and not all Balpa pilots will necessarily go on strike, so many flights will still go ahead. Ryanair typically drafts in replacement pilots in such situations, so expect the Irish airline to do everything it can to minimise the disruption. Tens of thousands of passengers could be affected across the strike dates.

It’s highly likely though that some flights will not take off, and passengers who have booked flights, or are thinking of doing so, should check with the airline. Ryanair tends to give passengers two or three days’ notice if their flight is cancelled.

When an airline starts cancelling or delaying flights for more than three hours, passengers are entitled to compensation of €250-€600 (£230-£550) under EU rules.

The cause of the problem has to be under the airline’s control and not an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. Lack of planes/staff, flight overbooking, a strike by airline staff or an IT failure are all considered to be within the airline’s control – so compensation is payable.

Passengers on cancelled short-haul flights – up to 1,500km – are entitled to €250 or £230. For flights of 1,500km-3,500km, passengers are entitled to €400, and €600 for the longest flights (more than 3,500km).

Compensation is also payable if the plane is delayed. The payments are the same but only kick in when the plane has been delayed three hours for short flights or four hours for the longer trips. The delay is calculated against the time the plane was due to arrive.

Passengers are also entitled to ‘assistance’ under the EU rules. Short-haul passengers should receive food and water after two hours. Mid-distance passengers get help after three hours, while long-haul passengers receive it after they have been held in the terminal for four hours. If the delay is overnight, passengers should be provided with hotel accommodation but this often does not happen. This assistance should be provided irrespective of whether the delay is the airline’s fault.

The airlines have fought these compensation rules since they were introduced and passengers have had to go to court to get their money. The airlines frequently blame delays on events outside their control. Freak weather events or a last-minute strike by air traffic controllers are deemed to be outside their control. A lack of planes or staff is not.

The rules only apply to EU-based airlines or all flights that start in the EU on non-EU based carriers. What will happen after Brexit is not yet clear. Miles Brignall

Can I claim compensation if my flight is cancelled?

Airlines are bound to pay EU compensation of between €250 and €600 (£230 and £555) if they cancel your flight without 14 days’ notice, unless it is owing to an “extraordinary circumstance”. Coby Benson, a flight delay compensation lawyer at Bott and Co, says passengers on a strike-hit Ryanair flight would be entitled to EU compensation, but they might have to go to court to get it. “Ryanair refused to accept that it is liable to pay EU compensation in the event of the strike,” he said. “UK courts have taken a different view, as did the alternative dispute resolution service that Ryanair was a member of. However, when it too ruled that the airline should pay passengers caught up in strike action, Ryanair pulled out of the scheme.”

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I am due to fly home from abroad on the strike days. What is the airline’s responsibility?

If your flight is cancelled, airlines are required by law to either reimburse you in full or rebook alternative travel arrangements on the first available airline – not just Ryanair. In reality it is likely to be up to you to rebook an alternative flight yourself and then to reclaim your costs from Ryanair. If you are rerouted and arrive back in the UK more than three hours late, compensation is due as above, but again you will probably have to go to court to get the money. Note that travel insurance policies rarely if ever cover strike action by airline staff, so assume that your insurance will not come to your rescue. If you opt for a later flight, the airline is obliged to provide assistance, which means food, and accommodation if the delay is overnight. Keep all receipts, and keep costs at a “reasonable” level.

I’ve got to be back at work. Should I book a replacement flight now?

Ryanair is better than most at managing the impact of a strike, so it may be a case of holding your nerve. If you can’t afford to miss a day’s work and you need a back up flight, it’s going to cost you. The cheapest single fare from Faro in Portugal to London on 2 September booked online this week was £185. If you are prepared to go via Dublin, you can bring the cost down to £110. If strike action starts to look more likely, expect the cost of alternative flights to start rising fast.

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What are the pilots’ complaints?

Their grievances are legion, according to Balpa, which cites disagreement about pensions, insurance against loss of a pilot’s licence, parental benefits, allowances and a fair, transparent and consistent pay structure. Balpa does not disclose how many Ryanair pilots it represents, but says 72% of its membership turned out for the ballot, of whom 80% voted in favour of strikes.

What does Ryanair say?

The Dublin-based airline says it has written to Balpa asking for a resumption of talks but is hardly taking a conciliatory tone, pointing out that fewer than 30% of its UK pilots have voted for action.

“This Balpa industrial action has no mandate from Ryanair pilots, is ill-timed just 10 weeks before Brexit, and will cause unnecessary disruption to customers holidays and travel plans,” the airline said.

It added that Ryanair’s UK pilots recently agreed a 20% salary increase, with senior captains earning up to £180,000 a year.

What’s the background?

Ryanair simply refused to recognise trade unions for many years. That changed at the beginning of 2018 following a significant blunder. The airline mismanaged its pilot rostering schedule and was forced to cancel hundreds of flights. Suddenly, it required the goodwill of its pilots to limit the damage, and not long after it agreed to recognise unions. Old habits die hard though, and relations between the chief executive, Michael O’Leary, and his pilots have remained fractious.


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