Ryanair leaves Northern Ireland couple's holiday up in air
A disappointed Ryanair customer has accused the company of deliberately filling up seats before shutting down a route from Belfast and massively inconveniencing passengers, something the airline rejected as "untrue".
Mark Patterson (38) and his wife Julie (39) booked their summer 2018 holiday early to avail of travel deals and were due to depart from London Gatwick in July next year.
Confident that Ryanair had resolved its pilot roster problems - which had caused misery for 700,000 travellers in September - the civil servants booked a connecting flight with the low fares airline. However, they were left horrified on Wednesday when they received an email notifying them the Belfast flight had been moved from Gatwick to Stansted Airport, which is 68 miles away.
"Ryanair were advertising the Gatwick flights and I knew we could get a better holiday deal flying from there," Mr Patterson said.
"Then, out of nowhere, I received an email telling me the flight had been changed to Stansted and if I wasn't happy I could have a refund.
"Stansted isn't going to work, it's ages away so at the moment we have no connection - we're just stuck."
The couple's flight to Zante is scheduled to leave Gatwick at 1.30pm on July 4, just a few hours after the Ryanair flight was meant to land at the same airport.
They have considered changing the departure airport of their flight to the Greek island, but were informed that such a move would entail paying extra money.
He criticised the airline for giving "no thought" to people getting a flight on from Gatwick and for "assuming" London was the final destination of all passengers.
"They've been very misleading, because they've said all their problems were sorted," he added.
"The way they went about it was very mischievous, because they sold the tickets first before announcing the change of route."
Ryanair said the company wanted to ensure a Belfast to London service - which is currently suspended until March - would recommence in the spring.
"All customers booked to fly on this route have been informed by email of the change in airport and given the option of a full refund, we regret any inconvenience caused," it added.
"These claims of ‘misleading’ customers and ‘deliberately filling up flights’ are untrue. The customers in question were informed of this route change on November 8, (eight months before their scheduled flight) and chose to take a refund on November 9, which has been processed.
"Furthermore, Ryanair is a point to point airline and does not operate connecting flights at London Gatwick Airport.”
Ryanair's Belfast International Airport to London Gatwick slot is now back in the control of the International Airlines Group.
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said it could mean that if another airline does not take up the slot, Northern Ireland risked losing it.
He said the slot was "absolutely vital" for the economy.
He added: "I have written to EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to seek an urgent meeting with her to discuss the matter, and to see what action the EU is taking to protect this route."