The Irish low-cost airline has announced 400 flights to and from Spain alone will be cancelled next Wednesday and Thursday (July 25 and 26) due to a two-day strike organised by cabin crew in Spain, Portugal and Belgium.
Airlines are only able to avoid paying compensation and making alternative arrangements for travellers where a plane is delayed or grounded due to ‘unforeseeable circumstances’, and a legal strike – which Spain’s ministry has confirmed this is – does not fall into that category.
A delay of three hours or more or a cancellation automatically entitles short-haul passengers to €250 in cash and refreshment vouchers in a sum that reflects the amount of time they are grounded and, if they are unable to travel until the next day because of non-availability of planes or seats, they must be given suitable accommodation.
If it is known in advance that a flight will be cancelled, passengers are required to be given an alternative flight during the week before or immediately after the strike dates and must be given seven days’ notice.
Where an alternative date is not convenient, they must be given a full refund.
This is in line with European Union legislation and no airline operating across the 28 member States is exempt.
Ryanair is usually very quick to agree and pay the €250 compensation when it receives a claim, although, in the past, complaints have been made about difficulty in contacting the department – registration and additional details can be provided via the firm’s complaint tracker website, but responses come from a ‘no-reply’ email address and Spanish passengers have to call the Republic of Ireland to resolve queries.
Some customers say the helpline gave them an alternative email address when they phoned.
Around 100,000 customers in Europe are expected to be affected by the strikes, which will leave 300 planes each day unable to take off, of which 200 a day were due to leave or land in Spain.
This equates to around 12% of airlines on the continent.
Public works minister José Luis Ábalos has ordered Ryanair to give details of alternative arrangements it has in place for affected passengers and is set to announce the level of obligatory minimum services tomorrow (Friday).
This is the first-ever internationally-coordinated strike to affect Ryanair and was announced in Brussels after unions representing cabin crew in the three countries gave their reasons.
Issues cited include the airline’s refusal to recognise staff’s unions or to streamline their working conditions with national labour legislation in the countries they are based in, where there are more favourable.
Inside sources say cabin crew do not start getting paid for flying time until doors-to-manual, meaning time spent boarding and greeting passengers and helping them stow hand luggage in overhead lockers is given freely by flight attendants.
Recently, four cabin crew based in Mallorca who said they were unable to continue after having flown their legal daily maximum due to ‘physical and mental exhaustion’ and is scheduled to work a solid 12-15 hour day were summoned to Dublin and fired on the spot.
Letters went to cabin crew in the rest of Europe pointing out that staff ‘must not make the mistake’ of ‘putting their own comfort and convenience before that of customers’ and are ‘not qualified to choose whether or not they will fly’.
Anyone who refused or objected to their shifts would be disciplined and could be fired, they were told.
Spanish cabin crew union SITCPLA has criticised the airline for asking staff whether they intended to strike and asking those not scheduled to work on the strike days whether they would cover.
This effectively violates workers’ right to strike, since the aim of the industrial action is to create an impact on the company, and this would not happen if others were brought in on their days off.
Ryanair’s marketing managing director Kenny Jacobs expressed his ‘sincerest apologies’ to customers and insisted the strikes were ‘totally unjustified’, would achieve nothing except to ‘disrupt family holidays’ and would benefit no-one except for competitor airlines.
In answer to the unions’ claims that staff feel intimidated and insecure at the thought of their company finding out they are members of these organisations, or of going on strike, Jacobs said: “Nobody can be, nor will be, punished or victimised for going on strike, but neither can unions threaten, intimidate or blackmail employees who do wish to work.”
There is no suggestion that this has happened to any employee in Spain, Portugal or Belgium.