Aviation minister Lord Callanan reportedly attacked Ryanair for leaving thousands of passengers stranded by cancelling more than 160 flights over the weekend.
He demanded that travellers be fully compensated as the budget airline said it would drop 40 to 50 flights a day for the next six weeks.
Ryanair said its decision was partly because of changes to its pilots’ and cabin crew holiday rotas.
Up to 400,000 passengers could be affected and millions more have been left in doubt over their flights.
The carrier has informed passengers which flights it is cancelling only up until Wednesday. More than 80 flights were cancelled yesterday (Sunday).
The airline has also been accused of misleading passengers into thinking they are not entitled to compensation and can only claim a refund or wait several days for a rescheduled flight, The Times reported.
Its website tells passengers: “If your flight is cancelled we offer you two options to choose from: 1. Apply for a refund 2. Change your cancelled flight”.
It does not mention the compensation of €250 to €400 that it is required to pay under EU rules, nor the obligation to pay for flights on other airlines “at the earliest opportunity”.
The website has a link to the regulation at the bottom of the page and only those passengers who click and read the small print will see their full rights.
But some passengers said last-minute cancellations at the weekend had left them out of pocket because of non-refundable accommodation costs, or with no choice but to book expensive alternative flights or transport.
Others said they had been left stranded at their holiday destination. Many urged Ryanair to publish a list of all cancellations and took to social media to complain, including the airline’s Facebook page.
Lord Callanan was quoted in national media today as saying: “We expect all airlines to fulfil their obligations to their customers and do everything possible to notify them well in advance of any disruption to their journey.
“In the event of any disruption or cancellation, airlines must ensure customers are fully compensated and every effort is made to provide alternative travel arrangements.”
Ryanair said a change to its holiday year, from April to March to a calendar year from January 1, 2018, resulted in an increase in annual crew leave allocations as staff used time off before the end of the year.
The airline denied misleading passengers and said that all those affected had been sent an email. A spokesman added that Ryanair fully complied with “all EU261 legislation”, which applies to flight delays and cancellations.
The backlash came after Ryanair announced on Friday that it would cancel 40-50 flights a day until the end of October.
The cancellations were being made to improve its system-wide punctuality which has fallen from 90% to below 80% in the first two weeks of September.
This was blamed on a combination of air traffic control capacity delays and strikes, weather disruption and the impact of increased holiday allocations to pilots and cabin crew.
Ryanair operated at record schedule and traffic levels during the peak summer months of July (12.6 million passengers) and August (12.7 million passengers) but has a backlog of crew leave which must be allocated before December 31 in order to switch to a calendar leave year from January 1 onwards.
“These tighter crewing numbers and the impact of ATC capacity restrictions in the UK, Germany and Spain, as well as French ATC strikes and adverse weather (thunderstorms) have given rise to significant delays in recent weeks. Ryanair’s on-time performance has declined from 90% to under 80% over the past two weeks, a figure that is unacceptable to Ryanair and its customers,” the airline said.
“By reducing its scheduled flying programme over the next six weeks by less than 2% of its over 2,500 daily flights, the airline will create additional standby aircraft which will help restore on-time performance to its 90% average.
“Ryanair apologises sincerely for the inconvenience caused to customers by these cancellations. Customers will be contacted directly about this small number of cancellations and offered alternative flights or full refunds.
A spokesman said: “We have operated a record schedule and traffic numbers during the peak summer months of July and August but must now allocate annual leave to pilots and cabin crew in September and October while still running the bulk of our summer schedule.
“This increased leave at a time of ATC capacity delays and strikes, has severely reduced our on-time performance over the past two weeks to under 80%. By cancelling less than 2% of our flying programme over the next six weeks, until our winter schedule starts in early November, we can improve the operational resilience of our schedules and restore punctuality to our annualised target of 90%.
“We apologise sincerely to the small number of customers affected by these cancellations, and will be doing our utmost to arrange alternative flights and/or full refunds for them.”
Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said affected customers with bookings up to September 20 had been informed.
“We have messed up in the planning of pilot holidays and we’re working hard to fix that,” he told the BBC.
Writing on the airline’s Facebook page, Maria Joanna Suquitana said that guests travelling to Italy for her brother’s wedding found out hours before they were due to depart.
She wrote: “We were forced to rent a van from Germany and drive 16 hours because we just can’t trust to fly with you again. Most stressful days of our lives.”
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