Striking Airlines and the conflict of Rights

Flying used to be so simple!

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Ryanair Air Passengers Strikes Consumer Rights Pilots Crew

Flying away used to be one of lifes little pleasures!

The UK, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other countries have been centre-stage in the long-running dispute between Ryanair and its staff. The airline, one of the most profitable in Europe, has created a business model that has in the past not accounted for trade union membership or it would seem, an inclusive relationship with its staff. These pressure points have ultimately delivered a change in stance by the airline, resulting in acceptance of trade union representation. The problem however is evident, in that to achieve the goals of this new inclusivity, a major culture change has had to take place. On the one hand it is naive to expect that the airline would not play hardball in any negotiations, on the other, representatives are having to learn the rules of this new reality.

Into this mix, there is the annual survey of Consumer opinion about various brands. Which? customers considered that the airline was ‘greedy’, ‘sneaky’ and ‘arrogant’ with ‘ill-feeling’ toward the airline apparently having ‘intensified’ in the last 18 months. Interesting that this set of middle-england Consumers, should hold this opinion, when Ryanair, despite all its 'difficulties' are demonstrating a current 97% load factor for each of their flights; perhaps not as unpopular as some surveys would suggest?

The airline has exercised its right to challenge the ‘legality’ of the strikes and in the Dublin High Court, the strike was stopped because the Judge considered that the mediation process had not run its course, whereas in the High Court in London, the court considered that the calling of the strike was legal and so therefore it was allowed to go ahead. In the meantime, strikes are threatened elsewhere with no doubt the same challenges and debate about legality.

Into this mix is the challenging environment of European Aviation and Brexit with Ryanair looking to cull some 900 staff it would seem, on the back of the Boeing 737Max crisis.

In the meantime, passengers are regularly sought to provide comment in the media, delivering the underlying message that strikers should not affect their flights and what they are doing is wrong. It has struck me that there is some irony in all of this as I should imagine that a fair number of passengers flying on any striking airline, are probably trade unionists themselves and will or indeed should recognise the pattern of an industrial dispute?

So, we have a running strike with more to follow it would appear. Passengers should head for EC Regulation 261/2004 and use the rights contained therein, including a request for compensation. The response might be that compensation is not payable as the strike is an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. However, current European Court of Justice decisions actually states that compensation is payable because the strike would be classed as inherent within the airlines’ operation and secondly, the event of a strike would be considered to be within the control of the airline and not subject to external issues. Despite this important decision, Consumers should nonetheless expect to experience opposition to their request for compensation, but they have an important current court decision to support their claim. This request does not exclude their other rights to care, re-routing and so on.

In the same way that I advocate for Consumers, I will not join them in bashing pilots, crew or indeed an airline. Pilots and crew have a demanding job and the last time I looked, they have fundamental rights of association and organising their collective. Equally, I don’t criticise an airline for using whatever devices it choses to defeat what they see as detrimental to their operations; rights are not yet selective in our society. However, an airline or a union have an obligation to their very existence, whatever about Consumers, to ensure that they deploy the very best of relations.

In my view, everyone, airline, pilots, crew and indeed the very Consumers I argue for, need to take a step back and recognise the importance of their roles in our inter-connected economies and build something that has a real foundation; a foundation of good relationships that provides a good experience for all. Perhaps this is a dream; we shall see?