My long-running Ryanair saga

Some airlines have been refusing to compensate customers for delays due to technical faults. Merryn Somerset Webb explains why that looks to be changing.

One morning in early 2013 I got up at 4:00am and drove to the airport with my small children to catch a 6:25am flight. We got there at 5:00am. A few minutes after we cleared security the departures board announced a delay.

The flight took off four and a half hours later. It wasn't all bad: we watched the baggage loaders getting suitcases on and off the planes; we watched the catering vans come and go; and when all else failed, those of us who can read numbers played Uno.

Still, on our return I wrote to Ryanair (yes, it was Ryanair) to say that I was seeking compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004. Given the length of the journey (849 miles), my total compensation should have been €750, a sum that would have gone some way to restoring my mental balance.

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I got no response, until I mentioned Ryanair critically in an article a few months later. I then got a letter from the chief operating officer at the time, saying that it was "lamentable" for a "serious commentator" such as myself to "engage in cheap sideswipes".

In my reply (you can imagine the contents for yourself) I asked again for my €750. His reply? A letter had been sent (I just hadn't received it) and anyway there was to be no €750: the delay was due to "an unexpected safety/technical problemand as a consequence no additional compensation was due". We argued a bit and I eventually let it go.

There are better ways to restore mental balance. I settled on deciding never to travel Ryanair if an alternative carrier is available on the same route. But I haven't deleted the correspondence.

Regulation 261/2004 obliges airlines to pay out if they arrive three hours later than scheduled, unless the delay was due to "extraordinary circumstances" something beyond the airline's control, such as extreme weather or security issues.

But, as The Sunday Times points out, some airlines have been refusing to pay out on technical faults as well, on the basis that they too are beyond their control.

The courts disagree: in October, the Supreme Court ordered them to pay up. They haven't five carriers (including Ryanair) said at the time that they wouldn't accept the judgment until a similar case is resolved in the Dutch courts. A Liverpool judge has just ruled that they can't do that (the Supreme Court being the highest court in our land).

Most of the five look like they will accept this. Except Ryanair, which, it says, "has instructed our lawyers to appeal this ruling". I expect them to lose this appeal. And when they do, I will be sending in my letter again. If you have suffered delays of this sort in the last few years, you might want to do the same. You can download a template letter on the Which? website.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.