Carrier was forced to ‘capitulate’ on air passenger rights last week. Ian Taylor reports

Ryanair bowed to CAA pressure on Friday after being threatened with legal action if it did not respect air passengers’ rights following its cancellation of the flights of 700,000-plus customers.

The carrier confirmed on Friday that it had emailed passengers clarifying their rights to refunds and expenses and updated its website in line with CAA demands, saying it apologised “sincerely for the disruption and inconvenience”.

CAA chief executive Andrew Haines noted: “Ryanair has capitulated.” However, he warned: “We will review their position in detail and monitor this situation to ensure passengers get what they are entitled to in practice.”

The CAA had accused Ryanair of “persistently misleading passengers with inaccurate information regarding their rights” after chief executive Michael O’Leary claimed in a statement last Wednesday: “All the passengers affected have been offered re-accommodation or full refunds and their applicable EU261 entitlements.”

The CAA ordered Ryanair to comply with its instructions by 5pm on Friday or face enforcement action. It demanded the airline fully explain the options available to customers affected by cancellations, including how Ryanair would reroute them on other airlines. The CAA also demanded Ryanair explain how it would reimburse passengers for travel, food and hotel expenses.

Haines had first warned Ryanair on Wednesday of last week over its non-compliance with regulation EU261 on air passengers’ rights after the carrier announced a new round of cancellations affecting 400,000 passengers and withdrew 25 aircraft from service from November to March next year.

These winter cancellations followed an earlier round of cancelled flights affecting 315,000 passengers, announced on September 15.

The airline blamed a “rostering failure”. Yet it appears to have expanded beyond its capacity to deliver the services it sells, having boasted it would carry 130 million passengers in its current financial year.

The UK regulator noted: “The airline has failed to provide customers with the necessary and accurate information. We have examples of emails sent to passengers affected by cancelled flights [which] omitted material information about their rights.”

Haines said: “There are clear laws in place. We have made this clear to Ryanair, who are well aware of their legal obligations. The information Ryanair published fails to make this clear.”

The CAA noted: “We have been seeking information from Ryanair [on its compliance with the law] since September 21.”

However, Ryanair hit out at the CAA, claiming the regulator “did not apply” the same regulations to British Airways when a computer meltdown stranded passengers in May. The CAA rejected that accusation, with Haines insisting: “We are consistent in this approach.”

BA also dismissed Ryanair’s claim, saying: “We were and remain fully compliant with our EU261 obligations in relation to customer compensation.”

Ryanair was also compelled to retreat from O’Leary’s earlier threats to force pilots to give back a week of their annual leave.

Ryanair pilots have launched an unofficial trade union in an effort to win improved contracts. The airline has so far refused to recognise unions.