The Civil Aviation Authority has launched enforcement action against Ryanair after finding the low-cost carrier was “not complying fully with European customer law” over flight disruption.
The CAA said Ryanair is now required to make policy changes or face the prospect of further enforcement steps leading to court action.
However, the budget airline responded by saying it had written to the CAA to say it already complies with EU 261 regulations governing delays and compensation dating back six years and it was "unsure" why the regulator had threatened to take action.
Ryanair’s director of customer service, Fiona Kearns, said: “Ryanair fully complies with EU 261 regulations which is a fundamental part of our customer charter and our ‘Always Getting Better’ programme.
“Ryanair has requested an early meeting with the CAA to clarify any misunderstandings that may have arisen in dealing with some historic cases.
“As Ryanair’s punctuality this summer has broken previous records - over 92% of peak summer flights arriving on time - Ryanair continues to deliver the best customer service at the lowest prices to UK consumers and visitors.”
The CAA's move follows a six-month review by the regulator of airlines’ policies in relation to the support they give disrupted passengers and whether they comply with safeguarding passengers’ rights and providing for compensation as a result of flight disruption.
It published its first compliance report earlier this year after investigating the largest 15 airlines operating in the UK.
The regulator claims in its initial response to its review, Ryanair set out how it was dealing with flight delay compensation claims where delays have been caused by a routine technical fault and confirmed its treatment of claims received from customers dating back up to six years from the disrupted flight.
However the CAA said that following a further review of information it is not satisfied Ryanair is dealing with the compensation claims in line with consumer law, citing that the UK Court of Appeal has clarified how such claims are to be treated, in the case of Jet2.com v Huzar.
The body has also concluded that Ryanair is attempting to impose a contractual two-year time limit for passengers to issue compensation claims at court, “despite previously publicly committing to a six year time limit and in spite of the UK Court of Appeal ruling that passengers have up to six years to issue such claims at court”.
The CAA is therefore pursuing legal action under Part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002, mandating Ryanair to change its policies.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said: "The law is clear that compensation must be paid if a flight is delayed for more than three hours by a routine technical fault.
“It is also clear that air passengers have up to six years to issue a compensation claim at court. This position was reaffirmed by the Court of Appeal last year.
"The CAA is committed to protecting the rights of air passengers and we are determined to ensure all airlines comply with this regulation.
“That is why we are announcing this latest action against Ryanair today as our recent work has shown that they are not complying with this consumer law.
“Our review of airline policies has already led to Jet2, Aer Lingus and Wizz Air changing their position. We will do everything in our power to ensure that passengers are receiving the support they need, and are legally entitled to, during and after disruption.”
The CAA is now completing its second compliance report which is reviewing a further 16 airlines’ policies and which is due to be published by the end of the year.
Last month Ryanair announced it would launch an appeal after a judge at Manchester County Court ruled against the airline in a test case. It was ruled the carrier was not able to limit the amount of time passengers have before they are able to claim flight delay compensation.
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