/ Travel & Leisure

Ryanair’s ruling: compensation rules no longer up in the air

Icelandic ash cloud

The European Court of Justice has ruled Ryanair must reimburse passengers for reasonable costs after the volcanic ash cloud crisis. If you’ve suffered from a cancelled or delayed flight, how were you treated?

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) found in favour of one of the airline’s passengers, Denise McDonagh, who was stranded in Portugal for a week after the Icelandic ash cloud crisis. She had asked for €1,130 (£970) to cover the cost of meals, refreshments, accommodation and transport during the crisis.

Airlines must provide care to passengers whose flights are delayed for two hours or more or cancelled, even if the problem is caused by extraordinary circumstances.

The extraordinary ash cloud crisis?

Ryanair had argued that the ash cloud was so extraordinary that it should be released from its obligation under EU law to look after its passengers. But, in a ruling that applies to all airlines, the court concluded that it does not recognise a special category of ‘particularly unusual circumstances’ that would give airlines a get-out.

So Ryanair must pay this passenger, and other airlines won’t be able to try to escape their obligations in another crisis. The court also said there was no limit on the time airlines had to look after passengers. In fact, it said that it was particularly important passengers are looked after if they are stranded for a lengthy amount of time.

Will flight ticket prices go up?

Despite this, the ruling has said that airlines can pass on the cost of providing care to ticket prices. Ryanair immediately claimed the decision would increase the cost of flying across Europe.

The airline said the extra costs would have to come from passengers because the airline could not recover them from governments or unions. It claimed airlines had now become the insurer of last resort, as insurance companies had avoided liability for ash cloud costs by arguing it was an ‘act of God’.

Ryanair ticket prices actually already include an ‘EU261 levy’ to cover compensation. At Which?, we don’t think there’s a reason for airlines to push up prices. The ruling has simply confirmed the existing law that airlines must reimburse passengers for reasonable costs. So, there should be no reason for any airline to increase prices as a result.

Do you think airlines will put up prices as a result of the ECJ’s ruling? If you’ve ever suffered from a cancelled or delayed flight, did the airline give you the help you were entitled to?


I don’t see a problem if the majority have to fund the minority who suffer flight delays which are not their fault. Why should the minority lose out because of a problem that was not their fault? This is one of the costs for an airline of doing business.

I can’t see where the problem is with airlines having to pay compensation. Even if it bankrupts an airline like Ryanair, that’s no great loss.

The three possibilities are the customer pays, the airline pays or the insurance company pays. On the face of it it does appear to be unfair to penalise the airline as it was beyond their control ( on the otherhand if a Ryanair worker called in absent due to the weather I bet Ryanair do not pay them! ). I think this should be an insurance issue, it would keep flight prices down and means that the individual can make their own choice. “Act of God” seems an unfair exclusion to me, either I’m insured or I’m not.

There is not, and there should not be, any obligation to have travel insurance when flying. Therefore the law cannot assume that passengers will have travel insurance.

Tony says:
2 February 2013

I agree that travel insurance is not obligitory, nor should it be. Airlines are obliged to include an EU261 levy to cover compensation and as cancellations etc. are such a rare event these days the cost should be tiny.

No airline with a decent reputation to protect would be concerned about the cost of putting some passegers up for a few days. In the first place they would manage their response to service interruptions competently in order to mitigate their losses and in the second place they would count the savings made by not flying and put that into the “customer satisfaction” pot. Using big aerofans to push large canisters containing 150 people through the upper atmosphere is not without its potential problems; you know that when you set up an airline. A carrier that makes such a fuss over a once-in-a-century event wouldn’t attract my custom. Every day without disruption is a credit in the bonus pool.

Sophie Gilbert says:
4 February 2013

Airline companies themselves are insured, aren’t they? Let’s find out how much Ryanair got from their own insurance company when they claimed losses because of the ash cloud? Or do we think Ryanair didn’t claim for the same reason they refused to compensate their customers? An “act of god”, give me strength.

Time and time again Ryanair show themselves up for the crooks that they are. They don’t want to provide a service and make money, they only want to make money. The only way to make them disappear is for companies such as British Airways to be in direct competition with Ryanair and fly to all the same wee provincial airports as they do. They won’t even have to be quite as cheap as Ryanair: I know BA aren’t white as snow, but the overall service you get from them is like day to Ryanair’s night.