Attempts to treat yourself to a dose of late-summer sun could be scuppered, as budget airline Ryanair is set to cancel up to 50 flights a day over the next six weeks.

The news comes after the Irish airline was bombarded with abuse from customers dismayed to find more than 160 European flights canceled on 15 and 16 September.

The cause of this, and the reason for dozens of daily flights being cancelled between now and the end of October, is staff holiday requests.

Ryanair also blamed strike action and weather disruption; together with increased staff holiday allocations, this meant the airline's punctuality fell below 80%.

This meant that, for the first two weeks of September, more than one in five Ryanair flights either arrived or departed behind schedule.

While a cut of between 40 and 50 flights per day sounds like an extreme measure, it is worth noting this represents just 2% of the 2,500 flights it operates every day. The move, Ryanair says, will help bring punctuality back up to 90%; it has described the dip below 80% as "unacceptable".

Affected customers have reported how they were only informed of flight cancellations the night before they were due to fly, then not offered a replacement flight until several days later. Gary Cummings, who was due to fly from Leeds to Bratislava on the morning of 17 September, was told by text message the evening before that his flight had been canceled.

The only alternative offered by Ryanair was for 20 September, the date he was due to return to Leeds. "We were left in limbo," Cummings told BBC Radio 5.

However, customers do have rights under European Passenger Rights legislation, travel guru Simon Calder told the BBC. "The rules say if the airline doesn't have a suitable alternative flight, you have to be booked on a rival airline. It's a really odd thing in terms of customer care, to say we want to improve the operation by keeping more planes on the ground."

Ryanair said: "By cancelling less than 2% of our flying programme over the next six weeks, until our winter schedule starts in early November, we can improve the operational resilience of our schedules and restore punctuality to our annualised target of 90%."