26 June 2024

Aer Lingus passengers describe anxiety over industrial action

26 June 2024

The first day of industrial action by Aer Lingus pilots got under way without much disruption on Wednesday, as an Irish minister called for “cool heads” in the bitter dispute.

Passengers who arrived at Dublin Airport hoped their flight would not be cancelled at the last minute, and described their nerves over recent days.

Aer Lingus has already cancelled 270 flights over the coming days due to industrial action by pilots over pay.

The indefinite work-to-rule commenced at midnight with pilots now refusing to work overtime, accept changes to set rosters, or take on out-of-hours management requests.

An eight-hour strike is also planned for Saturday.

A resolution to the bitter dispute looked a long way away after the Irish Labour Court told both sides on Tuesday it will not be intervening at the present time.

But on Wednesday afternoon, the pilots group Ialpa said it had accepted an invitation to talks with Aer Lingus as the work-to-rule continues.

They are expected to meet at 9.30am on Thursday.

The travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers have been affected, with the airline having been working to offer refunds or alternative flights to those whose trips have been axed.

At Terminal 2 of Dublin Airport on Wednesday morning, Aer Lingus passengers whose flights were not cancelled were in good spirits.

Audrey from Galway, who was headed to Bilbao with her family, said she had received an email on Saturday to say their flight was going ahead, which reassured them.

“But between last Wednesday and Saturday it was very upsetting, wondering whether we’d be able to go,” she said.

I can see the justification for it. If it's an all-out strike then we're in awful trouble, but this work-to-rule has allowed a certain amount of flow of passengers. I'd love more transparency from the company about profit levels

“It’s our one family holiday of the year and obviously we wanted it to go ahead because otherwise there would be a lot of consternation in the house. So we’re happy ours is going ahead, and feel sorry for anyone else who isn’t able to go today.”

She said they were flying back with Aer Lingus, and had an extra few days off before they returned to work.

“We’re just willing to wing it and see how we go. We had checked alternative flights and even ferries if this hadn’t gone ahead, just in case. But once we’re there, we’ll be happy,” she said.

“The thought of not getting there is the issue, but once you’re there you’re relaxed.”

Asked about whether she supported the industrial action, she said it seemed to her that there was a good offer on the table.

“I suppose I’m probably not as incredibly angry as someone whose flight has been cancelled, but I think it is difficult to sympathise with the pilots to be honest with you, because they are well paid to begin with,” she said.

I think it's rotten because it affects so many families going on holidays, but they do it because that's the height of negotiations. I really feel for families

Diarmuid, who is from Dublin and travelling to France, said the pilots “had to do it at some stage”.

“I can see the justification for it. If it’s an all-out strike then we’re in awful trouble, but this work-to-rule has allowed a certain amount of flow of passengers. I’d love more transparency from the company about profit levels,” he said.

Catherine, who is from Dublin but lives in Minnesota, in the US, said her flight was not affected, but that she had been “anxious” coming up to the flight.

“I think it’s rotten because it affects so many families going on holidays, but they do it because that’s the height of negotiations. I really feel for families,” she said.

“If you are making record profits, you should give back to the people who took a nosedive during Covid, but you also can’t be greedy.”

Parents travelling abroad with their children spoke of their concerns about whether they would have to break bad news to their children excited about their holidays.

Passengers appeared happy once their flight to their destination continued, and willing to extend their stay if needed.

A woman who is flying to the US said she had been anxious in the run up to Wednesday and had had a “wait-and-see approach”.

Asked if she was flying back with Aer Lingus, she said “hopefully”.

“I didn’t think they would resolve it, because I can’t see them getting what they want, truthfully. I feel sorry for the cabin crew and the ground crew,” she said.

The airline and the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (Ialpa), a branch of the Forsa trade union, have been involved in a heated exchange of words in recent days, with each accusing the other of not engaging.

This dispute will be settled the same way every dispute is settled: compromise, engagement, sitting around a table. That's what needs to happen

The pilots are seeking a pay increase of 24%, which they say equates to inflation since the last pay rise in 2019.

Aer Lingus has said it is willing to offer pay increases of 12.5% or above if “improvements in productivity and flexibility” are discussed.

Both sides agreed to attend separate meetings at the Labour Court in Dublin on Tuesday to provide briefings on the industrial stand-off.

After its meeting, Aer Lingus said it was “disappointed” the court had assessed that it could not currently assist to bridge the gap between the sides.

“Aer Lingus has made it clear that it remains available for discussions both directly and through the state’s industrial relations framework,” it said.

Ialpa president Mark Tighe made clear the action would proceed “until there is a resolution”.

“Pilots in the union do not want to be in this situation,” Mark Tighe told RTE Radio on Wednesday.

“This is the middle of the summer, any day (of industrial action) is going to have a significant impact.

“What you see here is the direct result of management actions and their refusal to acknowledge that they should have been dealing with inflation as they went along.”

Political pressure is increasing on the Irish Government to help resolve the dispute, with Irish premier Simon Harris asking both sides to “dig deep” in an attempt to come to a resolution.

During leaders’ questions, Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly accused the Government of a “hands off” approach and said people were were looking for leadership and “a high level intervention”.

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys said she fully understands “how frustrating and upsetting” it is for people whose travel plans have been affected.

The Labour Court remains available to the parties, she said, and the situation will be reviewed comprehensively on July 1. In the meantime, both sides have been urged not to escalate the dispute further.

Ms Humphreys said “intensive efforts must be made by both parties” and said they must “get back to the table”.

“I think what we need here is we need cool heads, we need to leave the egos at the door, and get back into that negotiating room – I’m saying that to both parties,” Ms Humphreys told the chamber.

“If everyone sticks to their own position, we’re never going to find a solution.

“I’m saying to them: start talking, this will be resolved. There has to be compromise, they have to talk.”

The Aer Lingus check-in desks at Terminal 2 of Dublin Airport during the first day of pilots’ work to rule industrial action (Granne Ni Aodha/PA) (PA Wire)

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