Ryanair cabin crew strike cancels dozens of flights in Europe

Some Ryanair cabin crew went on strike in Belgium, Spain and Portugal on Friday over a dispute over pay and working conditions, causing limited disruption as the budget airline canceled dozens of flights leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.

Inflation urges across Europe have driven millions of workers to struggle with high costs of living, prompting trade unions to demand higher wage increases that are often backed by strike calls.

Airlines and airport operators across Europe have also struggled with staff shortages to handle the flow of passengers as travel demand boomed with the end of most COVID-19 restrictions. Employees of several other airlines, including British Airways, are also planning a strike this summer.

Ryanair cabin crew unions in Belgium, Spain and Portugal have called for a three-day strike starting Friday. Employees from France and Italy were expected to go out over the weekend. Crews in Spain are set to strike again on 30 June and 1-2 July.

Workers say the Irish airline does not respect local labor laws covering issues such as the minimum wage and urged Ryanair owners to improve working conditions.

“Things are dire,” said Ricardo Pe├írios, president of the SNPVAC, the union behind Portugal’s walkout. “Crew members are not even allowed to take water bottles on the flight.”

Ryanair did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday, but told Reuters last week that it had negotiated labor agreements covering 90 pcs of its workforce across Europe and did not expect widespread disruption this summer.

While much of the labor unrest has focused on the transport sector as it relates to a return to travel after the pandemic lockdown, there are signs of it spreading to other sectors. French trade union CGT is organizing a one-day strike on Friday to demand higher wages for oil refinery workers.

With inflation running over 8% in the euro area, a 40-year high of 9.1pc in the UK, and double digits in some Central and Eastern European economies, officials worry about a wage-price spiral developing in which higher wages are needed. Demand exerts inflationary pressure.

European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde has warned that the longer inflation persists, the more likely it is to affect wage negotiations.

The pilot and cabin crew unions of Brussels Airlines, a Belgian subsidiary of Lufthansa, also began a strike on Thursday. In three days, Brussels Airlines expects to cancel about 60 percent of its 533 flights.

Belgium is likely to be hit hardest by the Ryanair strike, with local media saying 127 flights will be canceled at Brussels’ Charleroi airport, affecting 21,000 passengers.

Two flights have been canceled so far in Lisbon on Friday, both to Brussels. Spain’s cabin staff union USO said a total of 18 Ryanair flights between Brussels and Spanish cities were canceled on Friday and Saturday.

In Spain, the government forced the company to operate 73pc-82pc flights during the strike period to maintain minimum services, forcing most to go to work.

The SNPVAC union said many flights from Portuguese airports would not be canceled because the airline had put strikers on stand-by and asked cabin crew in other countries to replace them. Ryanair states that SNPVAC represents only 3% of its workforce in Portugal.

Outside Lisbon airport, American Michael Rosides, 59, said he booked an EasyJet flight because he thought Ryanair would cancel but it didn’t.

“We’ve wasted a lot of time, a few extra hours, and a few hundred dollars,” he said.