The bigger the business the more taxpayers’ money they think that they are entitled to claim. We have already seen the energy companies get huge amounts of free taxpayers’ money in the form of Emission Trading Credits. Of course the banks received huge amounts of free money because they had lost out in the world wide casino than investment banks play with taxpayers’ money and now the airlines are trying to stick their noses into the taxpayers’ trough.
Northern Europe became a no fly zone for six days recently because of volcanic ash, which would, it was feared, damage the aircraft engines. The airlines had to comply with this ban because it was imposed under regulations for passenger safety. I must say when the ban was imposed I did not see any airline saying that the ban was unnecessary, although some of them did some research into it.
Now the ban is lifted astonishing the airlines feel that they are well above the law that applies to you and me. Under the law, enforceable and written into the laws of each European Union State, if an airline cannot fly for any reason it must pay hotel and subsistence cost for stranded passengers. This is the rule, and it applies whether you have paid 5 Euros for a ticket on Ryanair or £5,000 for a ticket on British Airways. It has always been the case and the airlines always knew that this was the rule under which they received their permits to fly.
They could have mitigated any risks in a number of different ways; they could have insured, or provided a reserve against a rainy day and marginally increased their prices. Many airlines apparently chose to do nothing. That was their free commercial choice. They knew the rule. Presumably they expected to have very few claims, and perhaps thought that Acts of God were unlikely in the extreme.
Now the volcanic dust has died down some airlines screamed how unfair it was that they have to pay out when events are caused by Acts of God. They sought exemption or in some way pretended that the law did not apply to them. That said it was unfair.
I disagree. They knew the law and they knew that they had this contingent liability in all circumstances.
Ryanair, who was one of the first to claim the law was unfair, has now generously informed us that it will abide by the law. How comforting to think that an airline that operates internationally has decided to abide by the law. It had previously tried to invent a law of its own, pretending that its obligation was to repay the fare, not provide money for hotel and subsistence for stranded passengers. Now it has backed down, presumably after discovering that a failure to abide by the law might mean the end of Ryanair. If Ryanair thinks that it can unilaterally decide which laws are unfair, retrospectively, it should not be allowed to operate. Anarchy may have its uses, but not in civil aviation.
Now Mr O’Leary of Ryanair says (and this is equally twisted logic) that “because governments closed airspace governments should reimburse the passengers, not the airlines”. It is an astonishing piece of sophistry. I should translate it to what the true analysis of Mr O’Leary’s position is:-
“We are given permits to operate airlines under certain rules. Those rules have cost us money; we could have provided for this cost but chose not to. We therefore feel that ordinary taxpayers should give us some free money for our misfortune.”
Other airlines argue that the law was not intended to make the airlines an insurer of last resort in respect of Acts of God. I think that is exactly how the law was drafted and with that specific intention in mind. Mr Richard Branson, who is not exactly impoverished, expects ordinary taxpayers to pay something in compensation to Virgin Atlantic.
Mr O’Leary says the rules are unfair and wants them changed. That is another matter, but I do not see why he cannot do what hundreds of thousands of other ordinary people do – save for a rainy day, instead of expecting all those ordinary people to bail him out.
Odd, isn’t it, what these people expect of ordinary taxpayers.