Irish low-cost airline Ryanair is to make one last attempt to avoid paying compensation to a number of Belgian customers his by strikes and cancellations in the summer of 2018.
The company will now try to have the case against it heard in an Irish court, in the hope that Ireland’s less rigid consumer protection laws will allow it to escape paying.
During the summer of 2018, Ryanair was hit by a number of strikes of flight crew which led to 170 cancellations, including flights to and from Belgium, where Ryanair flies out of both Brussels Airport and Charleroi. A total of more than 40,000 passengers were affected.
However, Ryanair refused to compensate the victims of the cancellations correctly, leading Belgium’s consumer affairs organisation Test-Achats to start a class action against Ryanair which ended up gathering together 1,200 complaints, claiming a total of €16 million in damages.
Ryanair had refunded the cost of lost flights and allowed passengers to fly on other flights at no extra cost. However, EU law also calls for passengers affected by cancellations to be awarded compensation of €250 or €600, depending on the distance involved.
A first hearing was held in September, when a timetable for the views of both sides to be filed with the court was established. Ryanair argued that since the company was incorporated in Ireland, only the Irish courts were competent to hear complaints, and therefore the action in the Belgian courts was not lawful.
Test-Achats pointed out that the Irish laws on consumer protection are less favourable to consumers, and that there is no possibility of bringing a class action suit – where a group of complainants who share the same complaint join their cases together in one. The request to have the case(s) referred to the Irish courts was, according to a spokesperson for Test-Achats, “obsolete, having been rejected several times by different courts, including the Cassation court.”
The organisation also pointed out that since 2018, Ryanair has changed its conditions of service, which now state that passengers may now bring a legal action against the company in their country of residence.
“This is an admission that their previous conditions, such as were applicable in the summer of 2018, needed to be amended,” said spokesperson Julie Frère.
Test-Achats now has until 20 January to reply with its own views on the action before the case is heard in court in June 2020 at the earliest – possibly as late as September.