Ryanair decided to drop its attempts to appeal a decision that the pilot strike in 2018 was an extraordinary circumstance, paving the way for affected passengers to claim compensation for any flights that were disrupted.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) began enforcement action against the Irish low-cost carrier in December 2018, as the authority argued that the airline’s decision to not pay compensation for its pilots’ industrial action in the summer of 2018 was illegitimate.
In the end, the CAA announced on December 12, 2022, that affected passengers were now able to claim compensation for the period.
Four-year legal proceedings
While the airline attempted to argue that the strike by its flight crews in 2018 did not warrant compensation according to European Commission’s (EC) regulations, it ultimately lost the case.
The latest development came in January 2022, when the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the industrial action was not an extraordinary circumstance. While Ryanair was yet to lose the case as it could have still gone to the UK Supreme Court, it decided against it.
“The UK Civil Aviation Authority and Ryanair reached a settlement on 30 November 2022 to end a legal dispute concerning passenger rights arising from flight cancellations caused by union-led strikes in the summer of 2018,” said a Ryanair representative in a statement to AeroTime. “The resolution reached between Ryanair and the CAA is consistent with a recent ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU on union-led strikes, ensuring a uniform level of passenger rights across the EU and the UK,” they added.
Meanwhile, the UK CAA’s Consumer Director Paul Smith noted that the authority took on the airline’s decision as it believed “that strike action by airline staff does not constitute an ‘extraordinary circumstance’, and as such, affected passengers should be entitled to compensation where this results in the delay or short notice cancellation of their flight.”
“Hell will freeze over before Ryanair unionizes”
Ryanair recognized unions for the first time in its corporate history in December 2017, only three months after Michael O’Leary, the current Chief Executive Officer (CEO) famously declared that “hell will freeze over before Ryanair unionizes”.
In July 2018, the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA), a branch of the Ireland-based union Fórsa, went on several one-day strikes, stating at the time that they had no “transparent system for the determination of important matters, including voluntary/involuntary base transfer/allocation, command upgrade, allocation of annual leave and promotion.”
Following month-long discussions, a letter from Ryanair’s then-Chief People Officer (CPO) Eddie Wilson to Fórsa, dated July 30, 2018, noted that the union’s strikes the following month would “cause further damage to Ryanair’s Irish business and jobs.” Wilson pointed out that if a fifth strike is called before the two parties’ meeting and if the union’s committee is again going to spend 4 of seven hours “outside the room consulting with Aer Lingus pilots,” the meeting would not take place.
The two reached an agreement in August 2018. However, before they did, Ryanair’s pilots in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden joined the Irish pilots’ industrial action. The 24-hour walkout resulted in around 400 canceled flights, affecting more than 74,000 passengers.