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21-hour Ryanair delay left pregnant woman in hospital – and it won't pay compensation

Lauren Davidson
A Ryanair flight was cancelled at 2.37am while passengers were waiting on the runway - AFP

When I arrived at Nice airport last Sunday at around 7.15pm, tanned and relaxed after a long weekend on the Côte d’Azur with my boyfriend’s family, I had no idea I would spend the next 24 hours trying to get home – and then be denied compensation.

Maybe I should have had an inkling. My flight was booked with Ryanair, the low-cost carrier that was voted the joint worst airline for passenger satisfaction by Which? readers. The survey took place last autumn, when Ryanair cancelled more than 700,000 bookings because of an ongoing dispute with its pilots.

But none of this was front of mind last Sunday evening – until our scheduled flight time, 9.15pm, came and went, as did the rescheduled slots (which some passengers had been informed of via text message from the airline) ​of 11.20pm and 1.59am.

Two hours into the delay, I tweeted Ryanair asking what we should do, as there was no information on departure boards ​and no one in the airport to speak for Ryanair. I let the airline know that someone in my party was pregnant. I sent 12 tweets overall, and received no reply.  

Airlines are bound by EU law to offer assistance while you wait for a delayed flight, which should include food and drink. As far as I know, Ryanair offered none of this assistance. Some passengers told me they were given €5 Starbucks vouchers from the airport, but by this time Starbucks was closed.

That was the least of our problems. At 2.37am, with a shuttle bus full of passengers waiting on the runway, in view of the plane, boarding passes already scanned, Ryanair cancelled the flight. (The pilot refused to talk to us, leaving the French ground control staff to break the news.)

EU legislation states that airlines must provide accommodation (and transport to and from) if the flight is rebooked for the following day. Any guesses how helpful Ryanair was?

The view of the Ryanair plane from the shuttle bus on the runway before the flight was cancelled at 2.37am Credit: Lauren Davidson

Almost 200 passengers were left to sort out their own accommodation, well after 3am. The people just behind me in the queue booked the last room in the Ibis Budget hotel across the road from the airport, leaving dozens of people to try their luck elsewhere.

(Ryanair later told me it offered no help because “hotel accommodation was not available” thanks to a strike by French air traffic control – an odd claim, seeing as I managed to book a room at 3.22am.)

One passenger contacted me via Twitter to say her group of 22 had to sleep on the airport floor. A pregnant woman told me that “due to over-exhaustion, lack of proper food and drink as well as abdominal pain”, she ended up in an ambulance to hospital, where she spent the night.

We finally took off at about 4pm on Monday. The plane was dirty (I had an apple core and other waste under my feet) and there were just three bottles of water on board for its 189 capacity.

The flight landed in London 20½ hours late, and I got home more than 24 hours after arriving at Nice airport.

The Ryanair plane had not been cleaned: there was an apple core and other food waste under the seats Credit: Lauren Davidson

To top it all off, Ryanair has refused to pay compensation.

EU261 – a piece of legislation that Ryanair’s boss, Michael O’Leary, has called “ridiculous” – entitles fliers within the EU to compensation if their arrival is three or more hours delayed. The payout is €250 (£218) for a short flight, rising to €600 for flights of more than 3,500km delayed for four hours or more – except in “extraordinary circumstances”.

But Ryanair said no compensation was due, blaming the cancellation on the strike and a runway closure at Stansted. I find this hard to swallow, considering the other flights listed that evening managed to take off. The planned 48-hour strike started at 4.30am the day before my flight, and Stansted’s runway closure lasted for only 30 minutes shortly after 6pm on Sunday evening.

Ryanair wrong

The airline also said the flight cancellation was “entirely beyond our control”. This just can’t be true. Delays happen, weather happens, strikes happen. But Ryanair – a major international airline ferrying 130 million passengers between 216 destinations every year – should have been able to foresee the problems and act accordingly. That’s its job.

More importantly, the appalling way Ryanair treated its customers was undeniably not “entirely beyond” its control. Whatever problem caused the flight to be cancelled was surely known to the company before 2.37am. The wilful lack of care shown by the airline to its passengers was inexcusable and its stubborn refusal to accept responsibility is a disgrace.

After a delay of this magnitude, €250 is not a huge ask – imagine if the law entitled me to compensation for all 20½ hours, not just the first three.

It may surprise you to hear it, but I’ll never fly with Ryanair again.