Ryanair strikes: all you need to know about pilots’ industrial action

As hundreds of thousands of Ryanair passengers wait to hear whether their flights will be cancelled during five days of planned pilot strikes in the peak summer holiday period, we answer some of the key questions.

When are Ryanair pilots going on strike?

Ryanair pilots who are members of Balpa, the British pilots’ union, have voted to stage a 48-hour strike from 00:01 on 22 August until 23:59 on 23 August, and a 72-hour strike from 00:01 on 2 September until 23:59 on 4 September.

Which flights will be affected?

It’s not possible to say in detail but the fact that the striking pilots are all based in the UK indicates that flights to and from UK airports will be the only ones affected. That suggests that passengers using Stansted, Ryanair’s main UK base, can expect some disruption.

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Not all Ryanair pilots are Balpa members and not all Balpa pilots will necessarily go on strike, so many flights will still go ahead. Ryanair typically drafts in replacement pilots in such situations, so expect the Irish airline to do everything it can to minimise the disruption.

But it’s highly likely that some flights will not take off and that passengers who have booked flights – or are thinking of doing so – should check with the airline. Ryanair has traditionally given passengers two or three days’ notice if their flight is cancelled.

What are your rights when flights are cancelled or delayed?

When an airline starts cancelling or delaying flights for more than three hours, passengers are entitled to compensation of €250-€600 (£230-£550) under EU rules.

The cause of the problem has to be under the airline’s control and not an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. Lack of planes/staff, flight overbooking, a strike by airline staff or an IT failure are all considered to be within the airline’s control – so compensation is payable.

Passengers on cancelled short-haul flights – up to 1,500km – are entitled to €250 or £230. For flights of 1,500km-3,500km, passengers are entitled to €400, and €600 for the longest flights (more than 3,500km).

Compensation is also payable if the plane is delayed. The payments are the same but only kick in when the plane has been delayed three hours for short flights or four hours for the longer trips. The delay is calculated against the time the plane was due to arrive.

Passengers are also entitled to ‘assistance’ under the EU rules. Short-haul passengers should receive food and water after two hours. Mid-distance passengers get help after three hours, while long-haul passengers receive it after they have been held in the terminal for four hours. If the delay is overnight, passengers should be provided with hotel accommodation but this often does not happen. This assistance should be provided irrespective of whether the delay is the airline’s fault.

The airlines have fought these compensation rules since they were introduced and passengers have had to go to court to get their money. The airlines frequently blame delays on events outside their control. Freak weather events or a last-minute strike by air traffic controllers are deemed to be outside their control. A lack of planes or staff is not.

The rules only apply to EU-based airlines or all flights that start in the EU on non-EU based carriers. What will happen after Brexit is not yet clear. Miles Brignall

What are the pilots’ complaints?

Their grievances are legion, according to Balpa, which cites disagreement about pensions, insurance against loss of pilot’s licence, maternity benefits, allowances; and a fair, transparent, and consistent pay structure.

Balpa does not disclose how many Ryanair pilots it represents but says 72% of its membership turned out for the ballot, with 80% voting in favour of walkouts.

What’s the background?

For many years, Ryanair simply refused to recognise trade unions. That changed at the beginning of 2018 following a monumental blunder by the airline: it somehow mismanaged its pilot rostering schedule and was forced to cancel hundreds of flights. Suddenly, it required the goodwill of its pilot cohort to limit the damage and, not long after, agreed to recognise unions. But old habits die hard and relations between the chief executive, Michael O’Leary, and his pilots has remained fractious.

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