Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the aviation industry, especially the airline sector, has been under high pressure given the financial impact of the global health crisis.
Airlines had to ground full fleets, many jobs were cut, and a significant number of pilots were forced to early retirement, which also added pressure on the current pilot shortage.
Now, more than two years have passed since the crisis started. Yet, industry tensions are far from over, with many affected workers already taking or ready to take strike action.
Join us by reading below as we share the details of past and current airline strikes.
What happens when airlines go on strike?
Before we go over the most relevant strike action in the past and the industrial action planned for the near future, it is essential to understand what happens when airline employees go on strike.
From the airline’s point of view, since the date labor union members decide to take strike action until the action is over, the airline cannot provide all the offered services to their passengers, which usually results in airline revenue and reputation loss.
For the passenger, this is usually uncomfortable and inconvenient. It usually means that they will have their flights delayed or even canceled, and often times there is no clear solution to their situation.
Can passengers be compensated?
Standard strike action and the so-called wildcat strike (usually pilots and flight attendants calling in sick) are nothing new, which is why insurance services have been adapted to cover passengers on different situations.
For example, insurance and non-insurance service provider Travel Guard offers “coverage for trip cancellation and interruption if a trip is delayed, cancelled or interrupted due to a sanctioned union labor strike for an airline or other travel supplier, as long as the coverage effective date is prior to when the strike is foreseeable.” They describe “a strike foreseeable on the date labor union members vote to approve a strike.”
In any case, airlines are forced to compensate passengers for the delayed and cancelled flights even if they have no insurance underwritten. According to FLIGHTRIGHT website, “the amount of the compensation depends on the flight distance and you might be entitled to either 250 €, 300 €, 400 € or 600 €.”
However, they also explain that for industrial action taken by airport and ground personnel, the airline has no obligation whatsoever.
Airline strikes in the past
As mentioned before, strikes are not new for neither low-cost nor major airlines. In recent years, there have been a series of strikes affecting the industry such as the Jetstar in December 2019, and the Brussels Airlines pilots and cabin crew members strike in December 2021.
Yet, we can go further to the past and find other relevant strikes. For example, on August 8th, 1966, 35,000 IAM workers in five airlines went on strike. The commercial airline sector closed in half for 63 days due to this industrial action.
Current and future airline strikes
Right now, some airlines are suffering from airport operation disruptions and difficulties brought by strikes. And further strikes have been planned by the employees of low-cost carrier Ryanair, British Airways, and other major airlines. Let’s see what is happening with some of them.
British Airways strikes
A strike started in July as hundreds of Heathrow customer service agents decided to take action. The workers have protested against a pay cut that took place during the pandemic and has been an ongoing pay dispute until now.
British Airways offered staff one-off bonuses, but employees were demanding a permanent refund. Finally, British Airways staff accepted a new pay offer and called off the planned strike at London’s Heathrow airport.
However, British Airways passengers are still suffering since trip cancellation decisions have not stopped. Heathrow officials announced the airport would cap the number of passenger departures from Heathrow over the summer due to ground staff shortages, thus affecting thousands of BA customers. The decision represented a daily reduction of around 4,000 passenger departures, until September 11, 2022.
As a result, “the airline has halted ticket sales for short-haul flights from Heathrow amid pressure to cancel flights. The restriction will now last until August 15 at the earliest (although could be extended again) and it’s understood the sales freeze could also affect long-haul flights on some dates and routes,” according to The Times.
EasyJet pilots in Spain have planned strike dates on August 12 to 14, 19 to 21 and 27 to 29, 2022. The objective is to get better working conditions and solutions to ongoing contractual disputes. While routes inside Spain will be the most affected, it is believed that routes out of the country will also be affected.
Adding to the pressure the airline industry is experiencing in Spain, Spanish Ryanair cabin crew members will go on strike every week, from August 8 until January 7, 2023. To avoid complicating things even further, Ryanair staff have come to an agreement for the strike action to take place from Monday to Thursday only.
Apart from demanding better working conditions and higher pay that has been requested recently across the industry, the Sindical Obrera and Sitcpla unions are calling for 11 staff members fired during recent strikes to be given their jobs back, according to an update from The Points Guy UK.
While the low-cost carrier has mentioned they do not expect the strike to cause major disruptions, services from major cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Alicante, Seville, and Palma de Mallorca will be affected.
Important concluding remarks
Further strikes are expected in countries like Portugal during the month of August, where civil aviation workers at two unions will strike over wages and safety levels, thus affecting airports in cities like Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Madeira, Beja, Flores, Horta, Ponta Delgada and Santa Maria.
Also, pilots from the Germany-based airline Lufthansa have also voted in favor for strike action, although no effective date have been disclosed.
The current environment in the airline industry is definitely making air travel complicated for many people.
Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that the threat of a strike is just that, a threat. Strikes are primarily used as bargaining chips in negotiations between unions and employers, so there is always the chance that both sides will come to an agreement before one actually takes place.
In any case, if your next travel involves any of the airlines mentioned above, or the destinations and dates corresponding to any strike already announced, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your flight status and prepare for a more disrupted trip than expected.
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A mechanical engineer and aviation enthusiast dedicated to share some knowledge by creating top-notch content, especially in engineering and aviation topics.
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