RYANAIR faces paying tens of thousands of euros in compensation for taking bookings on flights it still doesn’t have permission to fly.
Hundreds of people who bought tickets to Morocco – which the Dublin-based low-cost carrier is aiming to flood with one million passengers from Ireland and the UK by 2010 – have been told by email to re-book their flights or apply for a full refund.
This is because an “open skies” agreement to allow unrestricted air travel between all countries in the EU and Morocco has yet to be signed.
It was due to be signed at the beginning of October but that date has now been put back to November 17.
This has led angry Ryanair customers who booked flights from France to question why the low-cost carrier was allowed to offer the tickets for sale in the first place.
Some customers paid for their tickets as far back as July and had planned to travel in October and November but insist Ryanair – which was voted the world’s least favourite airline a few weeks after announcing €329 million profits in the six months to September 30 – did not warn them that there could be a problem with the unsigned-treaty.
Because the agreement – which abolishes existing restrictions for travel to and from Morocco and the EU – has not been signed, flights from France are now only being offered to Marrakesh from December 1 and to Fez from December 2, according to the Ryanair website.
Furious couple Joan and Adam Bunting, who booked a flight from France to Fez in July, are claiming €445 from Ryanair – which was blasted in Tonight With Trevor MacDonald/Granada TV documentary last Friday over the way it treats passengers – but say they are disgusted with the way the company has handled the situation.
Mrs Bunting, who is now continuing with her trip to Morocco but with another airline, told BBC Radio 4′s You and Yours programme yesterday: “Dealing with them is just endless hassle.
“You cannot get through to Ryanair under any circumstances. If you trawl through their website, you eventually find a fax number, send your fax and several days – if at all – later, you get an email back with a notice across the top of the email saying ‘you may not reply on this email address’.
“We have paid quite a considerable amount more on a different airline, we are still going but we are still fighting with Ryanair for a full refund plus compensation for the hassle they have caused us.”
Husband Adam added: “The €445 is not an enormous sum for them in view of the huge profits they recently announced, but for us as a retired couple, it’s quite a lot.
“What we’re really annoyed about is that they could very easily have told passengers that this problem of the new treaty not having yet been signed meant flights might not be available but they gave absolutely no warning to us about this.”
The couple, who are unable to fly to Morocco in December, say they have yet to hear from Ryanair if they will get any compensation at all.
Easyjet had a similar problem in the summer when it mistakenly thought it had an agreement to fly into Istanbul.
Then, noted aviation consultant John Strickland, Easyjet took “a more conciliatory point of view” for its customers and he noted “it wouldn’t be normal” for an airline to book people on flights before an “open skies” or similar agreement had been signed.
And he added: “Ryanair will do what they legally have to do – which is refund the ticket price or offer another flight.
“But they will argue that it’s outside of their control, so they won’t do more than the minimal in terms of their existing booked customers.”
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, when approached by the BBC, simply said: “No comment”.