In what has been described as a “cock-up of monumental proportions” and, by any analysis, has been a PR disaster, Ryanair cancelled 82 flights on Sunday 17 September and will continue to cancel as many as 50 flights a day for the next 6 weeks. Its actions have certainly caught the attention of the media, with the stories of some of those estimated 315,000 people affected being publicised widely in the both the traditional press and social media.
Ryanair has confessed that it “messed up” the planning of its pilots’ holidays and accepts that it is facing a “significant management failure”. The airline is in the process of changing its holiday year to run from January to December instead of April to March. As a result this meant that the airline had to allocate annual leave to pilots in September and October. Together with air traffic controller delays, strikes, and bad weather it says this has meant that its punctuality dropped to 80% rather than its aim of 90%, leading to the cancellations being implemented with the view to resolving the issue.
Amid the furore that has been caused, and no doubt in a bid to prevent its share price falling even further than the 10% already incurred, Ryanair has reportedly been attempting to alleviate the problem by offering captains a tax-free bonus of up to £12,000 in return for them waiving days off and staying with the business for a year.
In turn this had led to a perhaps unexpected turn of events, and yet more misfortune for the airline. One group, made up of employee councils from numerous Ryanair bases across Europe, has reportedly refused the offer on several grounds, including that it was too vague and its conditions could not easily be met by the pilots. It’s been reported that the group has informed Ryanair that the pilots based at a number of European airports will immediately begin to 'work to rule' - that is, fulfil the terms of their contracts but refuse any work above and beyond that, and called for the airline to engage with the pilots in order to agree better working conditions and new contract terms. It’s also rumoured that a WhatsApp group with staff representatives from over 30 bases are coordinating a plan to get a better deal from Ryanair. Some pilots have separately spoken to the BBC about the ‘toxic’ atmosphere at the airline, and of how they feel undervalued by it.
This situation shows the potential huge ramifications that one change can have if it’s not handled and planned for correctly. Ryanair’s reputation is undoubtedly tarnished as a result, its share price markedly affected, and the emerging employee relations issues will take time and potentially significant amounts of money to resolve.