Examining the Ryanair Petition Over French Air Traffic Control Strikes
On May 1 of this year, French air traffic control (ATC) had a day of industrial action protesting pension age requirements, causing delays and cancellations for passengers during the surrounding days. The strike followed a series of walkouts in France during Easter, which coincided with action taken around Europe during a busy travel time. Workers grew frustrated over a lack of pay increase in accordance with high levels of inflation around the EU.
In strikes throughout March and April, over 10 million passengers suffered delays or cancellations to their flights, a large portion of which stemmed from the Easter strikes when 33,300 flights were canceled and 9,000 delayed over 3 hours. The European Commission has been working to rectify these situations as strikes curtail revenue from tourism that the region relies on during the economic recovery from COVID-19. Given the high rates of travel over the holiday weekend, Easter’s strike was a particularly significant loss.
During the May 1st strikes , airlines were told to cancel 33% of flights at Orly Airport and 25% at Paris Charles de Gaulle to curtail influx to the locations during the reduction of staff. While Air France operated all long-haul flights during this time, the airline tried to meet 7 out of 10 short and medium length ones. This is significant given the frustration over cancellations impacting flights primarily within Europe; shorter international flights were more likely to be canceled, and airlines were unable to fly routes even going through French airspace. Overflights’ lack of protection during strikes is a phenomenon unique to France’s laws. Other European countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain allow overflights and provide better services for cancellations to be passed on to their local airlines while French minimum service legislation only protects domestic and passes cancellations to international airlines, a stipulation that has been a source of frustration for airlines, particularly during spring strikes.
Ryanair has been hit hard by these ATC laws as they have had to cancel 4,000 flights, many of which were only overflights. Because of this, Ryanair produced a petition against the French ban of routes through their airspace called “Protect Passengers - Keep EU Skies Open.” The petition outlines three requests. First, they call for protections of overflights in France in line with other EU nations. Second, they ask that other European ATCs can take over management during French ATC strikes. Third, they ask for binding arbitration to be confirmed prior to strikes. Their petition currently has over 800,000 signatures.
So what happens to passengers during this time? Although other regions do not have compensation systems in place, EU Regulation 261 affords rights to passengers to receive refunds or be rebooked to another flight at the earliest opportunity. It is up to the passenger to request these services and they are often vaguely promoted, but the airline must oblige. This has led to frustration from airlines as they feel they must bear the brunt of an inconvenience, not of their own fault but that of the airports and government sectors. Although Ryanair has a website for these refunds, customers were frustrated to find there was a glitch, making them unable to receive compensation. Ryanair has sent a message updating passengers that they were working to fix the issue.
All of this leads into a larger conversation over the rights of the worker. There is an immense amount of frustration felt by passengers whose travels have been delayed or canceled, or even by the airlines that are having their revenue impacted by airports inability to meet their workers needs. At the same time, this is why many take industrial action; the large-scale impact gives their message a microphone. Those burdened by the strikes are meant to feel a bit of empathy for the unfair treatment workers have experienced, which no one would notice without the inconveniences felt from industrial action. Even so, there can be unintended consequences and certain groups might be impacted more from the action than others. It is still uncertain whether this year will be a turning point or be followed by increasing strikes in the travel sector.