By Amy Wilkinson
The "crazy" ruling to make airlines pay compensation to passengers stranded in situations like the volcanic ash cloud crisis in 2010 will lead to higher air fares and carriers going bust, Ryanair's boss said on Thursday.
Michael O'Leary derided Britain's "compensation culture" after the European Court of Justice ruling obliged airlines to cover the costs of stranded customers' food, accommodation, transport and communication, even in "extraordinary circumstances".
It comes after a claim by Denise McDonagh, who was stranded in Faro, Portugal, for a week while waiting for a flight home to Dublin after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in 2010.
She successfully demanded compensation from Ryanair of almost 1,130 euro (£970) to cover meals, refreshments, accommodation and transport.
The eruption left millions of passengers unable to return home because it was too dangerous to fly through the ash clouds, and Thursday's ruling could open up airlines to a raft of future claims.
The court recognised compensation claims could have "substantial negative economic consequences" for airlines, but said a high level of protection must be afforded to passengers.
The court also said airlines should foresee any costs but pointed out that ticket prices could be hiked as a result.
Mr O'Leary said the court's decision made the airlines "insurers of last resort" and said whoever was responsible for cancellations should pay compensation.
In 2010, that would have been the Government for closing Britain's skies even when "there was clearly no ash cloud over the UK", he said.
"We now have a position that when the next time there's an ash cloud or the skies are closed by Europe's governments, the travel insurance companies will walk away and wash their hands and say it was an act of God and the airlines will become the insurers of last resort," he said.
"Somebody who has paid us fifty quid to travel to the Canaries, who may be stuck there for two weeks, two months, six months, will now sue the airlines and you will have airlines going out of business, and the ones who stay in business will be putting up the air fares to recover these crazy claims."
Mr O'Leary said Ryanair had paid out to everyone affected by the volcano eruption in 2010, including Ms McDonagh, but had still not covered costs despite introducing a compensation surcharge.
"It's a crazy decision, it's another crazy decision coming from the European court," he said.
"You can't expect us to be providing compensation for the world and his mother when we are prevented from flying."
He went on: "Why does somebody have to pay? Why do we take responsibility for something that has been caused by others?
"This compensation culture is running riot in this country."
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reiterated its advice to passengers affected by flight delays and cancellations and advised passengers who were not being treated properly to contact them.
Passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled are entitled to assistance from the airline such as food, drinks and accommodation where necessary, the CAA said.
In addition, passengers whose flights have been cancelled at short notice or arrive three hours or more later than scheduled are also entitled to claim for compensation - unless the delay or cancellation was out of the airline's control.
A spokesman said: "These regulations are in place to protect people when things go wrong with their flights. Anyone with concerns that they are not being treated correctly by their airline can contact the CAA for advice or to make a complaint."