Ryanair has been accused of breaking the law after leaving a mother stranded in a foreign airport late at night with her baby.
Alice Sheen, 35, is £600 out of pocket after her Ryanair flight was suddenly cancelled, forcing her to buy tickets with another airline the following day.
Experts say the ‘heartless’ budget airline, which has offered only £76.08 for its cancelled flight, could be in breach of European regulations by offering her the next Ryanair flight three days later, rather than paying for the next available flight home with any airline.
Ordeal: Alice and baby Arlo. She was forced to book another flight after Ryanair left them stranded in a foreign airport late at night
The mother of one’s airport nightmare comes as many families jet off this week for the half-term holidays.
Alice had spent five days with family near Toulouse, in France, last August. Her relatives were staying another week, but she needed to get home. She and eight-month-old Arlo were due to catch the 10.05pm flight to Stansted, but a one-hour delay at the gate turned into a cancellation with no explanation.
At around midnight, passengers were told they could stay in a hotel five tram stops away. But, by the time Alice and Arlo arrived at the station, the trams had stopped. Taxi drivers refused to take her without a baby seat for Arlo — a legal requirement in France.
Alice, a probation officer who lives in St Albans, Hertfordshire, was offered no alternatives by airport staff. Her partner, Chris, 33, tried to ring Ryanair from the UK, but the line was closed.
Alice tried to book a hotel within walking distance on her mobile, but there were no rooms available. So she had to return to the airport, where she was given a bottle of water and shown to a ‘quiet part’ to sleep.
She says: ‘I felt so scared and vulnerable — and like I was a terrible mother. I had my baby to look after and my belongings, so there was no way I could sleep.’
The next available Ryanair flight was three days later, but, without supplies for Arlo, Alice knew she could not wait. So she used her credit card to buy a £600 ticket with British Airways for the next day.
Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?, says Alice and Arlo’s treatment was ‘heartless’ and may breach EU regulations.
Experts say Ryanair, could be in breach of EU regulations by offering her the next Ryanair flight three days later, rather than paying for the next available flight home with any airline
He adds: ‘The rules clearly state that, in addition to fixed compensation and care, airlines must get passengers suffering cancellations to their final destination at the earliest opportunity, which includes booking tickets with rival airlines. Ryanair should pay up immediately.’
Alice says when she got home, she wanted to forget all about the experience. However, after speaking to friends, she decided to contact Ryanair for compensation. The airline agreed to refund her the £76.08 she paid for the original flight, but refused to offer any other redress.
When a flight is delayed, customers have a right to care, including food and drink, and, if a hold-up is overnight, accommodation. If, like Alice, you were not given travel or accommodation, then you should ask the airline for ex gratia compensation.
Under EU law, airlines must also compensate passengers for flight delays and cancellations on routes in Europe, unless in exceptional circumstances. To qualify, the plane must be more than three hours late arriving. Depending on the distance of the flight and length of delay, you could claim from €250 (£219) to €600 (£525).
But Ryanair claimed that it did not have to pay as the delay was caused by ‘unnecessary industrial action taken by a small number of pilots’, which was outside of its control.
However, travel expert Frank Brehany says airlines cannot always use this excuse. He says: ‘Very often, there is a lead-up to a strike where known dates are set. When airlines know there is a strike, they must offer alternative travel options.’
Ryanair is facing legal action by the aviation watchdog after it refused to compensate thousands of UK customers hit by strike disruption last summer.
Regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) urged passengers to complain to the Aviation Alternative Dispute Resolution service, which can order firms to pay — but Ryanair pulled out of the scheme in November.
The CAA then launched enforcement action against Ryanair last December after the airline rejected compensation claims the regulator felt customers were entitled to. This case is ongoing.
Passengers who are pursuing compensation from Ryanair should complain to the aviation regulator in the country in which the flight was cancelled. For example, Alice should contact the French Civil Aviation Authority.
Ryanair did not respond to requests for comment.