A Ryanair flight attendant struggling to feed themselves was found digging through the plane bins for food, a colleague has said.
The claim is one of a number of allegations made by pilots and cabin crew members of senior ranks to The Mirror about life at the budget airline.
Lifting the lid on conditions at Ryanair, many spoke of gruelling schedules, high levels of fatigue and low pay.
Most of the claims have been refuted by the Irish airline, which notes its low levels of redundancies during the pandemic and flight cancellations, as well as providing staff pay figures, to argue the company is in a good place.
Ryanair’s account is at odds with the picture painted by some of its staff however, who endured hefty pay-cuts during lockdown which have not been fully restored.
One flight attendant spoke of suffering regular homophobic abuse from passengers while feeling unsupported by the company and unsure of who to go to for help.
Others told of the challenging conditions low-wage crew faced, with some flight attendants who are struggling to keep up with rent hikes sleeping three to a room.
All the pilots The Mirror spoke to predicted a mass exodus later this year or in early 2023 due to pay and fatigue, and said that the airline’s current efforts to fill staff rosters by flying in workers from abroad were not sustainable.
Among the many issues that staff raised, the work culture at Ryanair was forefront of most workers’ minds.
Staff who spoke to the Mirror gave the example of Ryanair’s sickness policy, which they claim requires staff to hand in a doctor’s note on the third day of their illness – despite UK law requiring one after seven days.
Several members of staff told the Mirror that workers faced having their pay docked if they called in sick too often.
“If you do that too many times, twice or three times, you will be called in for a disciplinary meeting with Ryanair.”
Due to the pressure the NHS is under, getting a doctor’s note to explain your absence and avoid pay being docked was increasingly difficult, they claimed.
A spokesperson for the company said: “Ryanair offers enhanced sickness benefits well above the UK minimum Statutory Sick Pay entitlements. Ryanair’s sickness policy is fully in accordance with UK law.”
The airline’s CEO Michael O’Leary has previously denied there being a culture of fear at Ryanair during a 2019 hearing.
Low levels of pay, particularly among cabin crew, was an issue multiple Ryanair workers raised.
Ryanair says flight attendants joining the company make £20,000 a year in the UK.
This number was refuted by multiple employees however, who said that a large chunk of that money was contingent on completing flights – which was not possible during the pandemic as planes were grounded.
One pilot said he knew of multiple instances of cabin crew living three to a bedroom to afford rent, while the company had advertised for spare rooms in locals’ homes for new staff sent to training courses in Dublin to sleep in.
They claim that new recruits are now put up in student accommodation in the Irish capital, some sleeping on bunkbeds in multi-person dorms that are not segregated by sex.
The financial impact of cut wages and many staff placed on furlough during lockdown was significant, with some pilots forced to sell cars and family heirlooms, and sleep on friends’ floors, one worker claimed.
One struggling flight attendant was found looking for food in a plane’s bins, while another was regularly brought food by their concerned colleagues, it was claimed.
When asked about pay, Ryanair said it pays its starting co-pilots £50,000 a year – a figure £7,000 higher than that quoted by two pilots to the Mirror.
One pilot said captains earned £113,000 a year, while Ryanair said a senior pilot taking on training duties could earn £175,000 a year.
“I realise these figures seem quite reasonable, but they’re still 10% down on 2019 figures, and £20,000 behind jet2, easyJet and TUI,” the pilot said.
Other pilots conceded that the pay was good in comparison to many British workers, the £120,000 training costs to get into the cockpit, high inflation and gruelling four flight a day schedules, put the amount into context.
They said many pilots wanted to leave the company due to the better wages on offer elsewhere.
Employees also spoke of feeling undervalued by higher-ups.
Several claimed executives regularly swore during company wide video conferences and that a ‘rock and roll’ attitude was fostered in the business.
One flight attendant said staff were treated like “lemons that they squeeze the juice out of then throw away”.
The feeling that they were not adequately supported by management was echoed by all Ryanair staff interviewed, and seemed to be a particular issue for flight attendants.
One spoke candidly of facing homophobic abuse onboard, including being called a ‘f*g’ and being threatened with punches by passengers.
“The amount of times I have wanted to tell passengers exactly what I think of them, but Dublin would hang me out to dry if I did,” they said, referring to Ryanair’s central command.
They added: “If Ryanair does offer any support, I don’t know how to access it.”
Another key concern for employees was staffing levels.
Both pilots and flight attendants said they are working schedules were busier than in pre-pandemic 2019, and that the company was increasingly struggling to fill roster gaps created by leaving staff.
Cabin crew claimed they were sometimes called in the early hours of their days off by management asking if they could cover a shift.
Pilots and flight attendants had been flown in from continental European countries to fill rota gaps and then jetted home in their own time, several claimed.
“I think we’re at the tipping point going into this summer,” one pilot said.
“When you get on the staff bus at my airport, you bump into people from other airlines. They all say to me ‘how are you guys all surviving’.
“I think we’ve reached that precipice where they can’t run that number of services anymore.”
The Ryanair spokesperson said: “It is a normal part of airline operations that pilots and cabin crew can occasionally operate from other bases depending on the airline’s operational requirements.
“Ryanair is fully crewed in the UK for both pilots and cabin crew. We are experiencing above normal levels of disruption due to air traffic control staff shortages, airport and third-party ground handling delays.
“Whilst every delay and cancellation is regrettable, Ryanair continues to outperform our competitor airlines with the fewest cancellations and the best on time performance despite the very challenging operational environment for our industry.”
On the topic of fatigue, the Ryanair spokesperson said: “Ryanair cabin crew are well paid, earning £20,000-£40,000 per annum and their work is capped at 900 flight hours a year, which is an average of 18 per week.
“Our cabin crew work an industry leading, five on, three off roster which is equivalent to a bank holiday weekend every week, reduces the risk of fatigue and delivers work life balance.”
The company said that it has an “exceptional 37 year+ safety record and the safety of our people and passengers is, and will remain, our number one priority. “
It noted that pilot and cabin crew hours are limited by law, and that a “comprehensive Safety Management System” and a “demonstrably effective Fatigue Management processes” were in place.
“Our pilots operate a fixed, five on, four off roster which reduces the risk of fatigue and delivers work life balance,” the spokesperson added.
A flight attendant said crew have been moved between bases including Manchester, Dublin and Stansted to fill rota gaps, with Ryanair putting them up for a week at a time.
“It’s a big disruption to your life,” the worker said, claiming that some cabin crew feared falling out of favour with management if they said no to the transfer.
“People have showed me screenshots of them being called at 5am on their days off. But there is a fear factor there as well. Crew are afraid to speak out.
“The first day off you’re asleep the entire day. They work you to the bone because they’re losing crew.”
The Ryanair spokesperson said it had negotiated a four year pay and jobs protection agreement with BALPA and UNITE “that saved jobs”, claiming that “zero pilot or cabin crew redundancies” were made in the UK during the pandemic.
They said the company is still working with unions to prioritise pay restoration to pre-pandemic levels, which would happen by April 2023, “subject to business recovery”, following a 2022 BALPA agreement.
“This 2022 BALPA Agreement was recently approved by a ballot of our UK pilots showing that our pilots strongly support these jobs protection and now accelerated pay restoration agreements as we work through the Covid recovery phase,” they said.
Negotiations with UNITE over cabin crew pay were “ongoing” after an offer was rejected by member ballot this summer.
“Ryanair has offered UNITE improved and accelerated pay restoration well above the levels agreed with UNITE just two years ago in 2020,” they said.