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Ryanair gets deadline to inform passengers of rights

Airlines changing their ways?

LONDON - Ryanair has been ordered to issue a press release informing passengers about their right to compensation for thousands of canceled flights as the budget airline faces the threat of legal action over allegedly misleading statements made so far.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority gave Ryanair until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) Friday to issue the press release and provide a link to it on the company's website. The regulator said Wednesday it had begun an enforcement action against the Dublin-based airline for "persistently misleading passengers" about their rights to compensation.

The deadline is spelled out in a letter from CAA Chief Executive Andrew Haines to Ryanair's chief legal and regulatory officer that includes several other conditions for resolving the aviation authority's concerns.

"This issue is urgent as passengers may already have been disadvantaged by taking a decision based on misleading information provided by Ryanair," Haines said in the letter. "We therefore require you to meet the deadlines set out above."

The regulator has threatened to take legal action after Ryanair on Wednesday scrapped 18,000 flights in a second round of cancellations following the airline's admission that it "messed up" scheduling of pilot vacations.

The agency said the airline failed to tell customers it would reroute their travel on other carriers if no suitable flights were available on Ryanair and pay out-of-pocket expenses resulting from cancellations.

Ryanair said Thursday it would meet with CAA officials and "comply fully with whatever requirements they ask us to." Haines' letter welcomed that commitment and said agency staff would be available for a conference call at 2 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, Britain's ITV News unearthed an internal Ryanair memo that allegedly instructed call center staff to offer flights with other carriers -- provided the price "does not exceed three times the value of the original Ryanair fare."

The consumer group Which? criticized the airline's policy.

"Ryanair appears to be plucking figures out of thin air as there is no legal basis for the arbitrary figure they've set," Managing Director Alex Neill said. "The law says passengers must be rerouted, and there's no specified limit on cost. This yet again highlights the importance of the action which the Civil Aviation Authority has started."