by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, The Telegraph, July 6, 2018
Around 100 Ryanair pilots from the airline’s Dublin base have announced a strike for Thursday July 12, to last for 24 hours, and cabin crew from elsewhere around Europe are threatening to do the same.
There’s been a long-running feud between staff and management at the Irish carrier, and the last time strikes were threatened was just before Christmas in 2017. CEO Michael O’Leary narrowly averted them by finally agreeing to recognise unions for the first time in Ryanair's 34-year history. But employees are claiming there’s been little in the way of actual progress since then, and are pushing for more rights.
Why are pilots striking?
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) held a summit in Dublin in which pilots and cabin crew put together a list of 34 demands. O’Leary branded them “pointless”. A rep for the ITF stated: “Conditions at Ryanair have been heavily criticised over the last few years, with the range of issues highlighted including poverty pay, draconian disciplinary procedures, unachievable sales targets and staff having to pay for items that most decent employers provide.”
Pilots are asking for a change in seniority rules so that those who have worked at Ryanair the longest would be eligible for first option on base transfers and annual leave. Cabin crew want better rights to sick pay and the end of steep sales targets on items like perfume and scratchcards, among other things.
What does Ryanair say?
A spokesman for Ryanair, which flies in 37 countries and carried 130 million passengers last year, argues that it has “already engaged in extensive negotiations with national cabin crew unions across Europe during which all of these, and other issues, are being negotiated.”
In a statement posted on Twitter, Ryanair’s chief people officer Eddie Wilson wrote to the union: “Having already agreed a 20 per cent pilot pay increase this year, and having already received our proposals on both base transfers and a seniority list, we invite you to call off this unnecessary strike as there is no reasonable grounds for [your] threat to disrupt the travel plans of our Irish customers next Thursday.”
Which flights will be affected?
Only Irish routes will face cancellations, with Ryanair stating: “Since Ireland accounts for less than 7 per cent of Ryanair flights, we expect that 93 per cent of our customers will be unaffected by any strike.” The airline has said it will inform customers of any changes next Tuesday by email and SMS. In its 33-year history, a Ryanair strike has never actually gone ahead, so it’s feasible that O’Leary will manage to avoid it once again.
Any other strikes I should know about?
Yes, French air traffic control (ATC) strikes have been causing trouble already this summer. Last month, Ryanair itself announced that more than 71,000 flights were delayed in May, affecting 200,000 passengers, because of ATC shortages and strikes. In the month of June, that number rose to 210,000 passengers. And just yesterday, ATC staff shortages caused delays to more than 580 of 2,262 Ryanair flights.
ATC strikes cause delays as airlines must find ways to re-route flights around sectors unable to handle capacity.
“Yet again this weekend, French ATC will strike on Saturday and Sunday leading to hundreds of flights being cancelled, disrupting the holiday plans of thousands of passengers,” O’Leary lamented in June, warning that European ATC providers are “approaching the point of meltdown”.
Also weighing in on the matter, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, which owns British Airways, said that air traffic control strikes on the Continent were more of a threat to airlines than rising fuel prices.
“The thing most impacting is ATC strikes and the ongoing ATC environment, which is a mess,” he told an aviation summit in Sydney. “It is destroying traffic throughout Europe. We thought it would get better in 2018 but it’s getting worse.”
There have also been strike threats from Spanish ATC staff, which would affect flights between the UK and holiday spots including Ibiza, Barcelona, Majorca and Menorca. The ATC union is calling for an increased annual leave allowance and more consistent rotas. The strikes, which were planned for July and August, look like they’ve been called off now after the Spanish government negotiated a deal with the union.
Am I entitled to a refund if my airline cancels my flight?
Yes. European Union regulations require airlines to offer you either a full refund for the unused parts of your tickets, or to re-route you to your destination as soon as possible. Some airlines may also allow you to rebook your flights for a later date at no extra cost.
Will I get compensation?
Airlines are not liable to pay the additional cash compensation set out by EU regulations because they are not directly responsible for the disruption.
What should I do if I am stranded abroad?
EU regulations make it clear that, when a flight with an EU airline or from an EU airport is cancelled, an airline is liable to pay for the cost of a hotel and subsistence for all those stranded as a result, until a replacement flight is provided. Should your airline advise you to buy your own food and accommodation, keep all receipts, and keep such costs to a reasonable minimum, before making a claim when you get back to Britain.
What about package holidays?
Those passengers on package holidays who are stranded in a destination should be looked after by their tour operator, and the operator is legally obliged to get them home. Customers will usually be allowed to stay in their original hotel, or will be moved to one of a similar standard on a half-board or all-inclusive basis. The exact situation will depend on the operator’s booking terms and conditions.
My flight has been cancelled - can I cancel my accommodation?
If you have booked a hotel, a villa or other accommodation independently of your travel arrangements (i.e not as part of a package holiday) your contract is directly with the hotel or villa and you are responsible for any cancellation. If you can’t get there, you will have to do your best to persuade them to give you a refund or rebook for a later date – but they are not obliged to do this and you may lose money.