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Ryanair - lessons in holiday planning

View profile for Lucy Sorell

Ryanair has been the target of much unwelcome press recently due to its mismanagement of a change of holiday year for pilots, leading to an unprecedented number of flight cancellations, which left the airline with a compensation bill for affected passengers of approximately £22 million. 

The cancellations were due to a change in Ryanair's holiday year from the financial year (April to March) to the calendar year. This resulted in a large number of staff rushing to use up their holiday in September and October, leaving many scheduled flights without a crew. Ryanair seems to have completely failed to take account of the likely up-tick in staff requesting holiday, in order to use it up before the end of the holiday year. 

As a result Ryanair has had to resort to offering pilots and first officers cash bonuses of £6,000-12,000 to work up to ten extra days to avoid some cancellations. This met with a lukewarm response as representatives from 30 of Ryanair's European bases told the airline that pilots were not interested. Ryanair does not recognise any pilot trade union but pilots have capitalised on the dispute to work together for a better outcome, in effect behaving as if they were unionised. Somewhat controversially, Ryanair followed this up with a statement that pilots may have to defer leave in order to deal with the cancellations.

Employers changing their holiday years can be left in difficulty as they need to ensure that they have adequate resources whilst at the same time ensuring that employees take their statutory minimum holiday entitlement for compliance and health and safety reasons. The following might help to achieve this balance and avoid the issues faced by Ryanair: 

  • Allowing employees to carry over some of their contractual holiday entitlement into the following holiday year
  • Where staff are on rotas which will not accommodate all leave requests, refusing some requests and offering alternative dates, or assigning staff particular holiday periods 
  • Allowing employees to "sell" excess contractual holiday rather than taking leave. 

You can read more about Ryanair's holiday issues here.