The Civil Aviation Authority is starting legal action against Ryanair after the budget carrier cancelled a further 18,000 flights affecting up to 400,000 passengers.

The regulator stepped in after the airline announced that it would be grounding 25 aircraft from November and would fly ten less from April 2018, compounding chaos for passengers already facing more than 2,000 flight cancellations in September and October due to a “mess up” in pilot holiday rotas.

The carrier also faced flak from Consumer group Which? – despite offering €40 travel vouchers to affected passengers – with home and product services managing director Alex Neill describing the situation as “a complete and utter shambles that now extends to up to nearly three quarters of a million people”.

Neill added: “The news means that for some of its passengers Ryanair has effectively cancelled Christmas.
“On top of leaving the travel plans of many in tatters, offering a €40 voucher will be cold comfort for passengers that can’t book the flight they need.”

Ryanair revealed yesterday that 34 routes were being suspended from November for the winter including services from Stansted to Edinburgh and Glasgow and Gatwick to Belfast.

Ryanair also abandoned a bid for struggling Italian flag carrier Alitalia, saying: “In order to focus on repairing this rostering problem this winter, Ryanair will eliminate all management distractions starting with its interest in Alitalia.

“We have notified the Alitalia bankruptcy commissioners that we will not be pursuing our interest in Alitalia or submitting any further offers for the airline.”

The CAA announced yesterday that enforcement action had been started against Ryanair for “persistently misleading passengers with inaccurate information regarding their rights in respect of its recent cancellations”.

The regulator revealed that it wrote to the Irish airline earlier this month, following the decision to cancel many thousands of flights, the to clarify the airline’s legal obligations.

“We sought assurances around how and when they would re-route passengers onto alternative flights,” the CAA said.

Ryanair was told to make a corrective public statement, to ensure customers were not misled and had accurate comprehensive information relating to their rights and entitlements.

“In announcing thousands more cancellations to its scheduled programme, the airline has again failed to provide customers with the necessary and accurate information relating to their passenger rights, particularly around rerouting and care and assistance entitlements, which includes expenses,” the CAA added.

“We have now told Ryanair that we are expediting enforcement action against them.

“Separately, we are continuing to investigate the airline’s rerouting policy.”

CAA chief executive Andrew Haines said: “There are clear laws in place, which are intended to assist passengers in the event of a cancellation, helping minimise both the frustration and inconvenience caused by circumstances completely out of their control.

“We have made this crystal clear to Ryanair, who are well aware of their legal obligations, which includes how and when they should reroute passengers, along with the level of information it provides its passengers.”

The information Ryanair published yesterday “again fails to makes this clear,” Haines said.

“In expediting our enforcement action we are seeking to ensure that Ryanair’s customers will receive the correct and necessary information, to make an informed choice about an alternative flight.”

The airline could face being taken to court under the 2002 Enterprise Act for refusing to comply wit EU regulations over flight cancellations.

The maximum punishment is an unlimited fine if Ryanair fails to inform passengers.

Ryanair said: “We are in correspondence with the CAA and have addressed their concerns.”

Chief executive Michael O’Leary, announcing the latest round of flight cancellations, said: “We sincerely apologise to those customers who have been affected by last week’s flight cancellations, or these sensible schedule changes announced today.

“While over 99% of our 129 million customers will not have been affected by any cancellations or disruptions, we deeply regret any doubt we caused existing customers last week about Ryanair’s reliability, or the risk of further cancellations.

“All of the passengers who have been affected by these disruptions have now been offered re-accommodation or full refunds and their applicable EU261 entitlements.

“In addition, they are receiving a travel voucher (€40 one way/€80 return) which they may use to book any Ryanair flight of their choice during October for travel between October and March 2018. We look forward to welcoming them all on board.”

Ryanair said: “We will be meeting with the CAA and will comply fully with whatever requirements they ask us to.”