Ryanair makes pledge to become ‘plastic free’ on all flights by 2023

Ryanair has pledged to become “plastic free” in the next five years, with the airline set to trumpet its relative green credentials as part of its ongoing makeover.

The Ryanair chief executive, Michael O’Leary, has famously suggested shooting environmentalists, and repeatedly denies climate change is driven by carbon emissions, which aviation produces in abundance.

However, Ryanair has promised to eliminate nonrecyclable plastics from its operations by 2023. It will also introduce a voluntary carbon offset payment for customers when booking.

As well as switching to biodegradable cups, wooden cutlery and paper packaging onboard, Ryanair said it would make its head offices, bases and operations plastic free.

The move comes the day after Ryanair formally agreed to recognise the pilots union Balpa in the UK, and will form the centrepiece of the fifth year of what it terms its “customer experience improvement programme”, or being nicer.

The chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said Ryanair’s environmental plan “includes our commitment to eliminate all nonrecyclable plastics from our operations over the next five years”.

He suggested customers could bring their own cups aboard, but added: “It’s not just inflight food and drink. We’re looking at the plastic parts within the aircraft and what’s nonrecylable and how do we work with the original equipment manufacturers to move to more recyclable plastics within the aircraft and the operation.”

But he admitted: “There will always be some kind of plastics … How far we get in terms of the 100% removal of nonrecyclable plastics we will see over the coming five years.”

He claimed Ryanair was already the greenest airline, in terms of carbon emissions per passenger, as 96% of seats were now filled on its modern, fuel-efficient fleet of 737s.

Ryanair will also make it easier for passengers to claim compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled.

The Irish airline was reprimanded by the UK regulator, the CAA, during its recent rostering crisis for not properly informing passengers of their rights under European law, while many consumers have experienced difficulties in seeking compensation.

Jacobs said they would improve ways to alert passengers about disruption and tell them how to file an EU261 claim. “We will make it easier to make a claim and if it is valid we will process it and pay within 10 days.”

Claims processing, which had been outsourced to call centres in Hungary and Romania, will now be done by a dedicated, 50-strong in-house team in Madrid.

Jacobs said that the move came in spite of the airline’s continued opposition to the EU261 regime, which he said meant customers often claimed far more than they had paid for a flight with Ryanair. He said that Ryanair had paid out more than £25m when it cancelled flights affecting about 700,000 passengers from last September.

About 50% of passengers entitled to compensation make a claim. Jacobs said Ryanair was considering whether some payouts, possibly limited to fare refunds, could be automatic.

Ryanair is also launching a John Lewis-style price promise whereby any passenger finding a cheaper fare will have the difference plus £5 refunded. As the comparison is limited to flights between the same airports within two hours, Jacobs could not specify how many could be eligible.

The airline is also planning to sell flights later this year with a Brexit refund clause unless an agreement is formalised to allow flights to continue between Britain and Europe.

Although Jacobs said he now expected an interim solution, he said that tickets available from September to depart after 31 March 2019 would go “on sale subject to the regulatory environment allowing”.