An op-ed by a former Ryanair captain sheds some light on the working conditions he believes led to the airline’s current woes and the mysterious cancellation of hundreds of flights.
Former Ryanair Captain James Atkinson believes that he knows the real reason behind the airline canceling hundreds of flights in recent weeks. Atkinson says that dire working conditions at the budget carrier have caused qualified pilots to flee the Dublin-based airline en masse, while competition from other airlines has made recruiting new talent nearly impossible.
“I was a captain for Ryanair from 2006 to 2014, and these canceled fights do not surprise me,” Atkinson wrote in his September 20 op-ed piece for The Guardian. “What I witnessed in those eight years left me shaking my head, and the current estimate that more than 700 Ryanair pilots have quit the airline in the last financial year does not surprise me either. But there’s an underlying problem at Ryanair, which is quite simply that the company cannot replace pilots as fast as they quit.”
According to Atkinson, who himself now works for an airline in China, while Ryanair had previously depended on hiring pilots who might be hoping to gain experience, other carriers around the globe are now offering much more competitive compensation even for pilots who are just starting their careers. He notes, however, that sub-standard wages are only one of the reasons pilots are abandoning Ryan Air at a jaw-dropping rate.
A career in aviation may sound romantic, but Atkinson sketches the reality of life at Ryanair as something much less glamorous. In his Guardian column, he describes crew members being required to pay out-of-pocket for food and even water during flights. He writes that in many situations he was required to travel to overseas operations bases on his days off, where he was forced to pay for his own hotel accommodations while traveling on company business. Far from glamorous, he refers to his time at the airline as a “soul-destroying experience.”
Atkinson poked fun at Ryanair officials for the frequently changing list of reasons the airline has given for the recent spate of cancellations. By his count, the airline has named regulation changes, employee vacation scheduling, weather conditions in Italy and paradoxically, an attempt to restore on-time operations for the cancellation of hundreds of flights in recent weeks.
Atkinson warns that Ryanair’s woes might not be a temporary problem. “Unless Ryanair treats pilots like me better, this crisis will be a long haul,” he insists.