Late last month there was a final resolution to the UK disability rights case against Ireland-based budget airline, Ryanair. As I sit here and read the high court ruling, I just have to ask Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, “Was it really worth it?”
The case stemmed from Ryanair’s discriminatory practice of charging some wheelchair users for assistance. Basically if you used your own wheelchair there was no charge, but if you needed an airport wheelchair there was a charge of €18 per flight. In many cases this €36 (approx. $70 US) round-trip surcharge effectively doubled the fare for disabled passengers.
Ryanair’s defense was that they were just passing on this third party contractor charge to passengers who used the service, rather than distributing it among all passengers in the form of higher fares as the other airlines did.
Enter the Disability Rights Commission and plaintiff Bob Ross, a Ryanair passenger who was charged for wheelchair assistance. Mr. Ross was awarded €1,336 in compensation in his case against Ryanair. This ruling also established Ryanair’s sole liability.
Ryanair immediately appealed the decision. They also instituted a 50p wheelchair levy on every Ryanair passenger in order to cover the cost of wheelchair assistance.
Ryanair lost their appeal that the claim against them should be dismissed, but the high court also ruled that Stansted Airport was equally liable in this case. As a result these two parties must split the cost of compensation to Mr. Ross and presumably to any future class action plaintiffs.
In the end a few lawyers got rich and Ryanair generated a lot ill will and bad publicity. Today, with advance notice, wheelchair-users are not charged for assistance when they fly on Ryanair. Of course this whole issue could have been avoiding in the beginning if Ryanair would have just added 50p to every fare in order to cover the third party contractor cost. Imagine, for the cost of a bag of crisps, this litigation could have been avoided.
Again, I have to ask Mr. O’Leary, “Was it really worth it?”