It says a lot about Ryanair’s reputation for customer service that writing a column critical of it feels daft.
Nonetheless, the airline that made its name by combining cheap flights with cheap shots at customers had until recently somewhat stepped up its game.
Seemingly, having decided that it had taken being mean to customers as far as that could go – possibly fearing too big a perceived gap had opened up between it and EasyJet – Ryanair went on something of a charm offensive a few years ago.
Through the early months of the coronavirus chaos, I still heard some good things about refunds on cancelled Ryanair flights, but as quarantine roulette arrived over the summer things went awry.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary says customers who have been ordered by the Government not to fly during England’s lockdown will not get refunds – just as it failed to refund those told not to go to countries over summer
Ryanair isn’t responsible for the Government’s shambolic handling of its fabled air bridges policy, which degenerated into creating a safe country travel list that was then frequently chopped and changed.
Nonetheless, when the Government issues advice not to travel to a country, leaving those who go against that both breaking official guidelines and travelling uninsured in a pandemic, I don’t believe it is reasonable to claim they can still go.
That is what Ryanair did over the summer period, as countries were added to the list the Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to.
This week, it doubled down on that policy by saying customers with flights booked in November would not be given refunds during the English lockdown, in which people are effectively banned from most trips abroad.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said that if their plane flew, then passengers booked on flights they couldn’t take due to the lockdown laws could change their flights but would not get a refund.
I ended up on the receiving end of this policy in August, when a week before my family and I were due to travel to Biarritz, the Government added France to the ‘don’t go’ list.
At the time, the main focus of most of the discussion surrounding Spain, France, Croatia, etc being added to the naughty list was the two week quarantine period when you came back.
This was deeply inconvenient for people – of dubious merit – and in our case would have meant our two girls couldn’t go back to school on time, after almost five months off in lockdown.
A more important consideration though – and the reason why I think Ryanair is wrong – is almost all of those who travelled to a country after the FCO advised against it would have been travelling uninsured.
Even if they are willing to ignore FCO advice and take the fortnight in quarantine on their return, I don’t think that it is reasonable to expect people and families to do that.
As soon as the advice not to go to France was issued, I contacted Ryanair to say that I couldn’t countenance going away with my wife and children uninsured and could I please have a refund.
I explained that as you have to change four return flights for return flights for the same people and I didn’t know when or where we could possibly travel to, I couldn’t simply change the flights.
I said that I didn’t need a cash refund, but would accept a voucher instead.
However, I was told by its online chat customer services that if my flight went ahead, I wouldn’t get a refund and they could not override that.
I was advised to instead email Ryanair, explain the position and make my request.
Which I did. And then the date of my flight arrived on 21 August, with still no reply.
I left the flights unchanged and on 16 September I finally got a reply. Except it wasn’t really a reply at all, as it didn’t acknowledge a single thing I had mentioned in my email.
It contained a series of stock statements and the only thing relevant was a standard line at the bottom that said: ‘If your flight is scheduled to operate and you choose not to travel, there is no refund due. However, flight changes can be made prior to departure.’
So, I emailed back, pointing out that none of the things I had written in about had been addressed, explaining the situation again, and that I understood things were tough for airlines and I would be happy therefore to take a voucher refund.
I got a swifter reply this time, on 22 September, unfortunately it was the exact same stock email they had sent me on the 16 September.
Ultimately, the only contact I managed to have with Ryanair involved the airline indicating that my family and I should be perfectly happy to go away uninsured and against official advice.
And so, like many other Ryanair customers I find myself wondering what to do.
Contacting the airline again seems pointless, but should I go to the CAA complaints system that isn’t really set up for this?
My next port of call seems to be my credit card provider – and that’s where I think I will turn to.
I am left wondering though whether it is really worth bothering with this for the £220 that I have lost out on.
I always knew booking those flights would be a gamble, but I think it is worth persevering with, if only because for Ryanair to expect people to fly uninsured and now potentially illegally is not acceptable – and because it just can’t be bothered to even reply properly.
I’ll let you know how I get on.