Aer Lingus has begun severance talks with 61 cabin crew in the United States amid plans to terminate a controversial service the airline operates as a joint venture with United Continental.
Aer Lingus and United formed a partnership in 2010 to operate a daily flight between Washington DC and Madrid, Spain. Aer Lingus provided the one aircraft that is used on the route, and also hired dozens of staff in the US as cabin crew.
The Irish airline, which at the time had seen the number of passengers flying on its services between Ireland and the US collapse, also seconded 16 of its pilots from Dublin to crew the Washington-Madrid route.
United, which merged with Continental in 2010, sold the tickets for the route and marketed it.
The partnership has been hugely controversial in the US. Earlier this year, the cabin crew enlisted the help of unions to help fight for the same pay and benefits that colleagues in both United and Aer Lingus were receiving.
Earlier this week, pilots from United picketed outside the White House.
They have been trying to negotiate new contracts with the airline. A major sore point has been the Aer Lingus joint venture. United pilots claim the airline is effectively offshoring jobs.
United Continental has told Aer Lingus it is exiting the partnership from the end of October. It said that it would continue to retain a codeshare agreement with Aer Lingus.
The Madrid service has been profitable for Aer Lingus. A spokesman for the Irish carrier said that both partners had an option to cancel the agreement at three months' notice and that Aer Lingus respected United's decision to do so.
He also confirmed that the 16 pilots it used on the service would be returning to duties in Dublin.
It's likely that the bulk -- if not all -- of the cabin crew recruited for the service will be offered severance. The spokesman declined to say whether this would be the case, only that the company was "in discussions" with the affected staff members.
The aircraft being used on the route will be redeployed to Dublin, bringing the total number of long-haul Aer Lingus A330s based at the capital to six. Another is based at Shannon.
The spokesman said the extra aircraft in Dublin would be used during the winter to provide additional capacity on services between Ireland and the US.
After substantially paring capacity in the past couple of years to match falling demand, passenger numbers on the routes to cities such as Boston, New York and Chicago have surged.
Releasing its first half results this week, Aer Lingus said that the number of trans-Atlantic passengers it carried jumped 11pc in the period to 433,000.