DUBLIN • Irish airline Ryanair sought to contain the damage caused by scrapping hundreds of flights through the end of next month.
It promised to compensate affected passengers and apologised for the mismanagement that led to a shortage of available crew.
With mass cancellations set to leave about 400,000 passengers in the lurch, Europe's biggest discount airline is likely to take a €25 million (S$40 million) profit hit from refunds and compensation, the Dublin-based company said on Monday, three days after announcing the surprise cutbacks.
"This is clearly a mess-up. I take responsibility... and I have to clear it up. I say sorry on behalf of Ryanair. I say we want to put our hands up, which is what we do when we make a mess," chief executive officer Michael O'Leary told a news conference.
Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers blamed a number of factors for the sudden cancellations, including a backlog of staff leave, which must be taken by the year end, air-traffic control strikes and bad weather.
Seeking to halt a decline in performance figures, Ryanair had taken the unusual step of announcing plans to cancel between 40 and 50 flights per day until the end of next month, "to improve systemwide punctuality, which has fallen below 80 per cent in the first two weeks of September". This fell to as low as 70 per cent in the days before the drastic move to cancel flights.
Mr O'Leary promised the problem would not recur next year, but said there would be a reputational hit from cancelling flights.
400,000 Number of passengers affected by Ryanair's cancellations.
40 to 50 Number of flights cancelled daily until end of next month.
S$40m Cost of the cancellations in refunds and compensation, according to Ryanair.
As a short-term fix, Ryanair will offer a fare sale and payments to pilots who are willing to waive vacation days, while to avert future issues, the company will spend €20 million to €30 million next year to hire additional crew.
The effort includes signing bonuses and poaching from insolvent Alitalia and Air Berlin, with the push taking on greater urgency as Ryanair's staff gets targeted by competitors, most notably Norwegian Air Shuttle.
The fiasco exacerbated a two-week-old spat with the Nordic carrier. Norwegian Air said it had hired more than 140 Ryanair pilots this year, although Mr O'Leary said Ryanair had lost fewer than 100 of its 4,200 pilots and recruited some from its rival, meaning it could fully crew its peak schedule.
The cancellations undermine Mr O'Leary's efforts to improve Ryanair's image and woo more lucrative customers. Ryanair began its Always Getting Better programme in 2014 to make flying with the no-frills carrier less onerous, introducing faster boarding for business travellers, discounts for children and sleeker aircraft cabins.
"It is the potential for long-term damage that concerns us," Mr Damian Brewer, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said in a note to clients.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS