Thursday 19 September 2019

Business as usual for Ryanair after threatened strike disruption fails to get off the ground

SATURDAY INSIGHT

On course: Ryanair appears to have emerged unscathed from pilot strike action
On course: Ryanair appears to have emerged unscathed from pilot strike action

Siddharth Philip

The timing could not have been worse for Ryanair. As the busiest travel weekend loomed and budget-minded Britons booked a quick holiday, pilots in the UK called a strike, threatening mass chaos at airports around the country.

It never happened. All of the discount carrier's flights operated as scheduled on Thursday, with the only delays due to congestion, the airline said. Ryanair's Friday flights also passed without glitches.

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In the end, what looked to become a nightmare for an estimated 260,000 passengers on 1,700 planes turned into a storm in a tomato juice cup.

It amounted to a second victory for Ryanair, after the Irish High Court had on Wednesday granted the airline an injunction to prevent a 48-hour stoppage by Ireland-based pilots from going ahead.

In the UK, Ryanair was able to ward off the disruption, partly because support for the strike was not large to begin with among the pilot ranks, with less than 30pc of its UK contingent backing the action, according to the company.

The carrier is also likely to have reshuffled rosters to staff planes with non-union cockpit crew and it may have flown in employees from other countries, according to Daniel Roeska, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein.

What is shaping up to be a flop for pilots is in turn a vindication for Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary (inset below), who has battled labour demands at every turn of his career.

The combative leader of the company once famously proclaimed that he would cut off both his arms and that "hell would freeze over" before he agreed to recognise unions.

Yet - and with all his limbs intact - Ryanair agreed to allow worker representation in 2017, and strike action has since become a more prevalent feature of the airline's daily life.

Ryanair shares rose as much as 32 cent, or 3.8pc, to €8.80 in Dublin.

The stock has lost 18pc in value this year, the third-worst performer on the Bloomberg World Airlines Index of 28 members.

Ryanair and the British Airline Pilots' Association did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Mr O'Leary upped the ante in the labour clashes last month when he told pilots and flight attendants that hundreds of jobs must go and bases close to cope with a possible no-deal Brexit and slower growth, after the grounding of Boeing's 737 Max jet.

Mr O'Leary is a fierce critic of the UK leaving the European Union, and he is one of the biggest buyers of Boeing's latest single-aisle aircraft.

In the UK, the walkout by members of the British Airline Pilots' Association started at midnight on Thursday, after Ryanair failed to block it with a legal injunction.

The union said in a statement that the protest over pay and conditions was "causing huge cost to the company", without referring directly to the impact on flights.

Cabin crew at Ryanair's Spanish bases have threatened to strike next month over plans to close three locations, unless unions agree terms.

Staff in Portugal are in the midst of a five-day action over holiday allowances and dues.

Bloomberg

Irish Independent

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