Ryanair's reputation was in tatters tonight after its boss was forced to apologise for a cancellation fiasco - after the airline slashed services after a "cock-up" over pilots' holidays.
Nearly £320m was wiped off Ryanair's stock market value after it emerged the firm knew about the staff shortage a year ago - a blunder which will effect nearly 400,000 passengers travelling on flights for the next six weeks.
Up to 50 flights a day have been shelved including departures and arrivals to London Stansted, Manchester and Birmingham.
But despite the PR disaster, which will cost the bungling budget carrier £22million in compensation and costs, cancelled flights were still on sale online tonight.The Roffee family saved £2,000 for dream trip which was cancelled just 45 minutes before flight
Chief executive Michael O'Leary said: "This is clearly a mess up. I take responsibility.
"Have I damaged Ryanair's reputation with these cancellations, yes.
"But I would rather damage the reputation of Ryanair by cancelling 50 flights a day than significantly delaying 40% of our flights which would amount to 800 flights a day."
When asked if he felt this was the biggest mess up of his career, he added: "I have a litany of cock ups over the last 12 years."
He also promised the firm would publish a full list of the cancelled flights by tomorrow adding he has no intention of resigning and the company needs him more than ever now.
When asked if he should step down he replied: "No, I don't think my head should roll, I need to stay here and fix this."
Tens of thousands were left stranded after the budget carrier began shelving up to 50 flights a day last week - many just minutes before passengers were due to board.
Some customers said the last-minute cancellations have left them out-of-pocket because of non-refundable accommodation costs or forking out for expensive alternative flights.
Others have been left stranded at their holiday destinations forced to shell out for extra nights in hotels - unclear whether they will be able reclaim all the costs.
The Roffee family saved up for 12 months were denied their dream triplast Tuesday when Ryanair cancelled their flight from Leeds Bradford airport - just 45 minutes before boarding. A replacement flight was offered but not until the day before they were due home.
Kellie, 35, and Simon, a maintenance worker for Lincoln Council, shelled out £495 for the flights and £1,500 for a hotel for seven nights in Malaga, Spain to celebrate his 30th birthday along with daughters Casey, 15, Ella, 12, Ryan, nine and Amelia-Rose, five.
But their plans were ruined after a last-minute cancellation leaving the family "devasted."
Housewife Kellie said: "We normally go away for a weekend camping and we couldn't do it because we were saving up for this holiday. Now won't be having any this year."
Under EU law, passengers given less than 14 days notice of a flight cancellation are entitled to claim compensation worth up to £200 for short haul routes depending on the timing of alternative flights and if the issue was not beyond the responsibility of the airline, such as extreme weather.
The Ryanair boss added: "If they're not satisfied with the alternative flights offered they can have a full refund and they will all be entitled to their EU261 compensation entitlements.
"We will not be trying to claim exceptional circumstances."
Changes imposed by Irish regulators, in line with European law, forces Ryanair to conform staff holidays with the calendar year from January, requiring it to allocate that leave before the end of the year.
Ryanair said air traffic control delays and strikes, bad weather and a backlog of annual leave to be taken by pilots and cabin crew had led to punctuality falling to below 80% over the last two weeks.
A spokesman said this figure was "unacceptable" and the company has apologised to affected customers, who it said will be offered alternative flights or refunds.
However, sources say the problems are also linked to difficulties hiring and retaining flight crew.
One former Ryanair employee said the airline was seeing 10% of its captains, and 16% of first officers, leaving every year.
It comes as the airline rapidly expanding, allegedly causing a knock-on impact.
The insider also said there was anger among fight crew about the way they are employed.
They said 90% of first officers and 30% of captains are self-employed.
"When Ryanair says it's about punctuality, that's a red herring," said another insider.
When questioned why cancelled flights were still on sale, the airline said: "The cancellations are going through this evening and are being taken off sale."
On the Roffe family, Ryanair said the cancellation was due to a French Air Traffic Control Strike but refused to comment on why a replacement flight six days later was only offered."
'Only 2% affected? Tell that to some poor family stuck abroad'
By NIGEL THOMPSON, Travel Editor
As a stupefying shambles goes, this takes the Ryanair €1.50 buy on board shortbread biscuit.
Wouldn't it have been easier to buy out pilots' holidays so they can keep flying as much as possible? (Just a thought, and of course only for volunteers).
And how pathetic for the airline to harp on about only around 2% of its flights being affected.
Tell that to some poor family stuck abroad with no idea when they'll get home, or who have lost their hard-earned holiday.
Ryanair has been running an Always Getting Better passenger charter for the last four years and, in fairness, there have been improvements in the way it treats its passengers.
But for this utter disgrace it gets my 2017 Customer Disservice award.
I wonder how many tens of thousands of people who have been left disappointed and abandoned will never again fly with Ryanair.
What you are entitled to under EU denied boarding regulations
There's a lot to it, but in a nutshell :
*If your flight is cancelled Ryanair must offer you a choice of being reimbursed or re-routed on the next available service or an agreed date, plus meals and telephone calls if needed.
*Should your re-routing be the next day, you are entitled to a hotel, reasonable expenses and airport transfers.
*Flight cancellation compensation is €250 under 1,500km and €400 for longer trips within the EU and other flights between 1,500km-3,500km.
*However, if a substitute flight arrives at its destination within 2hrs of the original flight (short haul), 3hrs (mid haul) and 4hrs (long haul), Ryanair can reduce the compensation by 50%.
*Passengers travelling in less two weeks will also be entitled to compensation if flights are cancelled, unless they have been put on a similar flight at no extra cost.