THOUSANDS more Aer Lingus passengers face travel chaos after the airline yesterday predicted more than 10 flight cancellations every day this week.
More than 1,000 people were affected yesterday when the airline unexpectedly grounded 12 flights and later revealed it would continue to cancel a similar number of flights in the coming days.
It claimed it cannot hire in enough cabin crew to replace staff it has suspended for refusing to work new rosters.
Last weekend, the airline said it planned to run a normal schedule this week using leased aircraft that come with both pilots and cabin crew, but it was not able to secure enough crew to offer a full service yesterday.
Flights on European routes to and from Manchester, Berlin, Prague, Dusseldorf and Amsterdam were hit.
Aviation sources last night speculated that the cancellations may be taking place because the airline has been left with half-full flights as passengers cancel bookings and seek refunds, and it does not make financial sense to run the flights until it has full capacity.
Ryanair said it was still providing the airline with four of the aircraft it is leasing, and will provide five today and tomorrow and a sixth over the weekend.
IMPACT, which represents cabin crew, claimed the airline's management was responsible for the latest cancellations and accused it of "reneging" on its promise to maintain flight schedules.
It has asked the Labour Court to intervene, but the airline said it would not ask third-party mediators to step in to the dispute as it has already engaged in 15 months of intensive talks with the union.
Two 'investigative' meetings scheduled by Aer Lingus management with suspended staff were held yesterday, having been postponed earlier in the day. However, managers are unlikely to take any sanction against staff until they have gone through the agreed disciplinary procedure.
This means an investigative meeting takes place before another disciplinary meeting, following which staff members have the right to appeal any sanctions ordered to be imposed on them.
A total of 220 cabin crew have now refused to work the rosters and 200 of them have been struck off the payroll.
New Transport Minister Pat Carey last night urged staff, union representatives and management to work towards finding a quick resolution to this dispute.
"The industrial relations machinery of the State remains available to facilitate further consultations," he said. "The travelling public must not be further inconvenienced by this dispute."
There was a temporary lull in the dispute between Thursday and yesterday as the airline ran a full schedule.
It did this by relying on leasing aircraft and crew from carriers including Ryanair, at an estimated cost of €400,000 a day.
Last week, over 4,000 passengers were affected during the dispute over new work practices when the airline cancelled 51 flights.
Aer Lingus said it was trying to keep disruption to a minimum by cancelling routes with numerous daily flights so it could re-accommodate passengers on later flights as quickly as possible.
"We've had to cancel a limited number of flights, which amounts to less than 10pc of our schedule because we can't get sufficient hire-in capacity," said a spokesperson.
On its website, the airline told passengers it was "endeavouring to operate its full schedule" but would let them know if flights were cancelled via text message and email.
Passengers can change flights for free on the website, or seek refunds.
The row over rosters has been going on for months and cabin crew have been engaged in work-to-rule action over previous roster changes, which did not lead to flight disruption.
Last week, the row escalated when management introduced further changes from Monday and struck over 170 cabin crew off the payroll for refusing to work them.
It has threatened to sack them if they do not sign an undertaking to work the rosters, but the first meetings on this were postponed yesterday when the union sought minutes of disciplinary meetings held last week.