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Ryanair strike: When is the pilot walkout and will my flight be affected?

Simon Calder
British pilots employed by Ryanair will strike for seven days this month: Simon Calder

In what is turning into an autumn of discontent for the travel industry, passengers are once again caught in the middle of another bitter dispute between an airline and its pilots.

British Airways is expected to cancel nearly 1,000 flights because of a strike by members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) on 27 September.

Before that, Balpa members employed by Ryanair in the UK are about to begin another seven days of strikes.

Flight crew have already stopped work on Thursday 22 and Friday 23 August, and on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 2-4 September. Ryanair said there was no impact on flights to, from and within the UK on those days.

These are the key questions and answers.

Who is planning to go on strike, and why?

UK-based pilots working for Ryanair and belonging to Balpa are exasperated about a wide range of concerns, including pensions, loss of licence insurance and maternity benefits. They also want to “harmonise pay across the UK in a fair, transparent, and consistent structure”.

Balpa says 80 per cent of pilots voted in favour of strike action on a 72 per cent turnout. That means 56 per cent of union members voted for a stoppage.

Ryanair responded by saying the strike has the support of less than 30 per cent of its UK-based pilots, once non-members are taken into account.

The airline claims that last year its UK pilots agreed a 20 per cent pay rise, taking some senior captains’ annual earnings up to £180,000.

It said: “We have repeatedly invited Balpa to meet with Ryanair to return to negotiations, and to call off these unsupported and failed pilot strikes, but Balpa offer no reason for their refusal to take up these invitations.”

Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, told The Independent: “The crux of this is a lack of trust, by Ryanair pilots and their elected representatives, towards their management that still doesn’t treat people with respect,

“That’s why we’ve repeatedly asked for joint talks under the independent auspices of Acas – which Ryanair declines to do.”

The third series of walkouts will see the flight crew stopping work on 18 and 19 September, then the remaining odd-numbered dates this month: 21, 23, 25, 27 and 29 September.

What will be the effect of the strike?

For the first two days of the stoppage the airline says there will be no cancellations: “Ryanair expects all its flights to/from UK airports on Weds 18 and Thurs 19 [September] to operate as scheduled.”

It praises “the efforts of over 95 per cent of our UK pilots who have confirmed that they will work their rosters, and will not support these failed Balpa strikes”.

The Independent has sought clarification from Ryanair about the likely effect on the remaining five days this month.

The thinking behind the apparently odd timing is that it will play havoc with Ryanair’s rostering patterns, and the airline will find itself with insufficient pilots with flying hours to spare to cover all the flights.

But Ryanair has now confirmed to The Independent that flights on Saturday 21 September will be normal. It has not yet made any predictions about 23, 25, 27 and 29 September.

When will I find out if my flight is affected?

Ahead of previous strikes, Ryanair has informed passengers on flights that it has decided to cancel two or three days ahead. The airline says it will make another announcement by Friday 21 September.

More than two million passengers are booked to fly with Ryanair on those four strike days, but a large majority of them are not on aircraft planned to be flown by UK pilots.

The Independent estimates that around 250,000 travellers have tickets for British-crewed flights on 23, 25, 27 and 29 September.

Many Ryanair services to and from the UK are operated by flight crew based abroad, and should be unaffected – unless for some reason pilots were transferred to cover for striking British employees.

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Could other days be affected?

The Ryanair business model is to get all aircraft out and back to base each day, meaning that crew do not “nightstop”. But because of the odd pattern of strikes, there may be a possibility that operations on 24, 26 and 28 could be affected. Any disruption, though, is likely to be minimal.

Why is the effect of a pilots’ strike at Ryanair so different from the industrial action at British Airways?

Far more pilots at BA belong to Balpa – around nine out of 10 – with three-quarters of all the airline’s pilots voting for, and presumably supporting, the walk-out.

Secondly, Ryanair has only one kind of aircraft, the Boeing 737-800, which means any pilot can fly all planes in the fleet. In contrast, BA’s operation from Gatwick and Heathrow has half a dozen. Therefore organising cover for flights is far trickier.

Lastly, the British Airways operation is far more complicated, with many long-haul services as well as European night stops.

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How will the strikes end?

Management at both airlines appear to have chosen a campaign of attrition, on the presumption that the pilots will tire of the lack of pay – and, in BA’s case, the loss of staff travel privileges – before the carrier makes any significant concessions.

Meanwhile Ryanair is experiencing industrial relations problems on another front.

Cabin crew in Spain are striking in protest about plans to close bases in the Canary Islands. They are expected to take industrial action on 20, 22, 27 and 29 September.

But the impact is likely to be muted because of Spanish trade union law, which means staff are told many flights must be operated as a “minimum service” obligation.

So passengers may find that the crew are onboard for safety reasons but they do not offer any inflight sales.

I am flying on a strike day. Can I cancel now, get a full refund and make alternative arrangements?

No. The only time the airline will offer a refund is once any cancellations have been decided. At this point cancelling for a refund would be unwise, because is absolves the airline of making alternative arrangements for your travel.

Under European air passengers’ rights rules, if Ryanair cancels your departure, you must find you a flight as soon as possible – including on another airline if necessary.

Unless it can put you on another Ryanair flight at a very similar time to a different carrier, it must pay for a new ticket on British Airways, easyJet, Jet2 etc.

Ryanair must also meet attendant expenses, such as transport from Stansted to Gatwick or Heathrow to take a flight on easyJet or British Airways respectively.

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