A former fire officer has accused an airline of cashing in on travellers’ desperation to get home during the coronavirus crisis.
Chris Wood and his wife Julia, of Knypersley, became stranded in Spain when Ryanair twice cancelled their flight home and they were unable to rebook their flight online.
They managed to get back to the UK after turning up at the airport and getting put on standby for a flight from Alicante to Liverpool.
But when they were allowed on the plane they were astonished that it was only half-full of passengers, despite the huge number of Brits needing to get home.
When they spoke to other travellers, they discovered many fellow Ryanair customers had also been unable to rearrange their flights and had instead paid the airline an inflated price for new tickets, because they were so desperate to get home.
Chris, a former Biddulph mayor, says he believes the company have deliberately made it hard for people to rearrange flights to make more money.
The 61-year-old said: “We have a property in Torrevieja and we flew out with Ryanair on March 7. There was no indication from the Spanish authorities that there would be any issues because of coronavirus and there was no guidance not to travel. About four hours after we arrived they went into lockdown.
“On March 12 I received an email to say our return flight on March 21 had been cancelled. It said you could swap flights for free in March, so we booked for March 31. Two days later I got an email to say that flight was cancelled.
“Again there was a link to follow to get a transfer for free, but every time I went through the process it froze. I tried 10 or 12 times.
“Being cynical, I then tried to book the same flight but as a new customer. The price was coming up as €400 one-way, when it usually costs around €160 return. There was no problem with the website then and I got all the way to the point of payment.”
Chris and Julia decided not to pay for another ticket, and instead set out to travel to the airport in Alicante on the off-chance they could get on a flight.
They were stopped by police who asked them why they were travelling, but were allowed to continue when they explained their situation.
Retired Chris, who used to work for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We were getting really frustrated, the Ryanair website would not process anything.
“Julia’s mother has dementia and we needed to get back, so on March 20 we went to the airport. We got there at 9am and were offered two flights that evening. But when we checked in two hours before the flight we were told we didn’t have a seat and would be on standby.
“When we boarded we had to stand to one side while the other passengers got on, then they called us over and let us on. To our amazement the plane was only half-full.”
The couple spoke to other travellers who had been forced to shell out almost €1,000 to get back to the UK.
Chris said: “They had the same problem as us transferring their flights for free so had paid for new tickets, which for a couple was €800, because they were in panic mode. Spain is only allowing two people in a car, so some had to pay for two separate taxis to the airport too.
“I believe it has been done deliberately by Ryanair to make people in a desperate situation pay more. How many other people are in the same situation, who may well now be stranded in Spain? It’s scandalous if people are stuck there.”
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Julia, aged 63, said the ordeal had been very worrying. She said: “My mum is elderly and has dementia and Parkinson’s. She has carers coming in.
“All I could think about was what if she got ill and I couldn’t get back, I might never see her again. I wanted to get home so desperately. It was a nightmare and very stressful.”
StokeonTrentLive contacted Ryanair for a response but received no reply.