Ryanair said that the six crew members were dismissed for gross misconduct, damaging the reputation of the company, and because of a breach of trust.
The photograph was widely circulated online after 24 crew members from different aircraft stayed overnight at a Spanish airport on Oct. 13 after being grounded in bad weather.
Circulated initially by critics of Ryanair and campaign groups, the image was accompanied by the suggestion that the crew was forced to sleep on the floor because the airline failed to book hotels, and had put them in a room without enough chairs.
This is Porto crew last night stranded on the floor of Málaga crew room. They were diverted due to the storm and the company left them there.#RyanairMUSTChange
The airline said it was staged, and later released a CCTV video that it claimed proved so. Some campaigners said the crew never claimed it was intended to appear anything other than staged, and that they had said so all along.
Ryanair said in an emailed statement on Nov. 7, “All six cabin crew members in Porto were dismissed on Monday, Nov. 5 for breach of contract on grounds of gross misconduct, after staging a fake photograph to support a false claim (widely reported in international media outlets) that they were ‘forced to sleep on the floor’ of the Málaga crew room.”
According to the statement, this “was behavior which damaged their employer’s reputation and caused an irreparable breach of trust with these six persons.”
The image appears to have first been widely circulated on Twitter by Jim Atkinson, an outspoken former Ryanair pilot.
“This is a Ryanair 737 crew based in Portugal, stranded in Málaga, Spain, a couple of nights ago due to storms. They are sleeping on the floor of the Ryanair crew room,” he wrote.
Peter Bellew, Ryanair’s chief operations officer, replied, writing, “Unfortunately, all hotels were completely booked out in Málaga. The storm created huge damage in Portugal. Later after this, the crew moved to VIP lounge. Apologies to the crew we could not find accommodation.”
In a later statement, Ryanair said the crew returned to Porto the next day, but didn’t operate any flights.
“Due to storms in Porto (Oct. 13) a number of flights diverted to Málaga and as this was a Spanish national holiday, hotels were fully booked,” said the Ryanair statement via email.
Despite initially describing the crew as “sleeping on the floor,” Atkinson later wrote on Twitter, “It is openly admitted by the people in the photo that it is a ‘protest picture.’”
The Portuguese Union SNPVAC said that the crew was stranded in the crew room from 1:30 a.m. until 6 a.m. and that Ryanair had failed in its legal responsibility to provide a hotel room.
In a statement posted to RyanAir protest group RyanAir Must Change, the union said that the crew had no access to food or drink and that there were only only eight seats available for the 24 crew.
However, SNPVAC acknowledged that the staffers were moved to a VIP lounge at 6 a.m.