Ryanair has confirmed it will be unable to take online bookings or phone bookings over a four-day period later this month, after the website failed to comply with an Office of Fair Trading rule on passenger air taxes.
The budget airline says its website booking engine and connected phone booking system will be offline between 10pm Friday 22 February and 11pm Monday 25 February.
"The Ryanair.com internet and call centre booking system will be down because of the changeover to a new flight booking system," Ryanair has informed its passengers, of course not mentioning the OFT dispute.
As well as new bookings not being handled, passengers already with reservations will be unable to make any changes to their flights or conduct any online check-ins.
The changeover was originally planned for a three-day downtime period starting this Saturday, but the move has been postponed. Ryanair has not explained why.
It may be linked to the fact the original plan covered the Valentine's Day weekend, which is traditionally a busy one, and someone at Ryanair had second thoughts about spoiling any romance in the air.
The site is being updated to comply with the OFT rule that prices shown to passengers should include all taxes.
Other airlines, including rival easyJet, have already complied with the OFT demand, and Ryanair's inability to finally comply without having to axe bookings over four days has been criticised.
Even after finally taking action, the move will still break an agreement Ryanair previously made with the OFT to have its house in order by 31 January.
Ryanair has blamed "technical issues" for its failure to comply.
Deri Jones, CEO of web application testing specialist SciVisum, said, "Ryanair is quite well known for being a pretty shrewd business, but taking its booking service offline for a very long weekend is the equivalent of a high street retailer shutting up shop for a week. Ryanair might as well include a link to easyJet's website. It is commercial lunacy."
Jones said, "The really frustrating thing is there is no excuse, and even no need for this downtime. It should have been planned properly.
"There are a range of ways to plan the roll-out of a new portal that do not require days of outage. Even an hour of outage can be avoided if done right."
He said many companies run two sites in parallel - one customer facing and the other internal facing. The internal site has the upgrades done and following intense testing to ensure that it is running smoothly, the two sites are seamlessly swapped over with no disruption to customers.
"Ryanair are not stupid, so there must be some logic to this excessive downtime. It is possible that careful cost management - one of their trademarks - has resulted in under-delivery online, and they are simply paying the price for not having planned and executed better on this change," said Jones.
A further problem for Ryanair is that the original downtime changeover period for this weekend was widely publicised in the travel media and the travel industry. This means bookings could be hit for two successive weekends - not very good for an online business.