The real reason Ryanair is cancelling 2,000 flights

About 400,000 passengers affected by mass cancellations

Ryanair Norwegian
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ryanair’s surprise decision to cancel up to 50 flights a day over the next six weeks could strand up to 400,000 passengers and cost the airline up to €25m (£22m) - so how could an international carrier have got it so wrong?

The official explanation is that the disruption is a result of Ryanair allowing too many pilots to take holiday in a short period. As a result, livid passengers are getting as little as 24 hours’ notice that flights have been cancelled.

“We f***ed up here, and we have to fix it,” Ryanair chief executive officer Michael O’Leary said in a conference call on Monday, reported by Bloomberg. “We should have seen it coming. This will have a reputational impact.”

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Ryanair blames an internal administrative change that shifted the holiday leave period for pilots and cabin crew, who then rushed to book leave rather than lose their annual leave. But some media sources claim that’s not the whole story.

“The picture emerging from a combination of leaked documents, insider accounts and aviation regulations suggests that the airline’s admission ‘we messed up in the planning of pilot holidays’ is an understatement,” says The Independent.

In addition to the internal changes to the company’s holiday rota, rival budget airline Norwegian Air has poached 140 Ryanair pilots since January 2017, and Ryanair is now offering its pilots a €10,000 “signing-on bonus” to stay with the company, the Irish Independent reports.

US authorities granted a licence to the Dublin-based low-cost Norwegian Air International subsidiary in December 2016, paving the way for direct flights from Cork and Dublin to Boston, as the Irish Times reported at the time. Norwegian is now believed to be making Dublin one of its major focus cities, putting it in direct competition with Ryanair.

Jet2, the UK's fourth-largest airline, has been flying internationally since 2003 and is expanding rapidly, giving Ryanair another headache as it tries to hold on to pilots and cabin crew. But the Irish Independent says extreme peaks and troughs of passenger demand in short-haul aviation means it is unlikely that Ryanair will suffer the loss of too many pilots.

After the initial PR disaster, Ryanair released the full list of cancellations on its website yesterday, along with information and applications for compensation.

Ryanair shares intially fell on Monday after the weekend chaos, but as Bloomberg points out, with the airline valued at a hefty €19.9bn (£17.7bn), it is expected to weather the turbulence.

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