At least 69 Ryanair flights cancelled due to Belgian pilots strike this weekend

At least 69 Ryanair flights cancelled due to Belgian pilots strike this weekend
Credit: Belga / Eric Lalmand

This weekend's strike by Belgian pilots at low-cost airline Ryanair has already seen at least 69 flights cancelled, affecting thousands of passengers, but many more are still unsure about whether their flight will depart or not.

Belgian Ryanair pilots are striking for better pay this weekend, after they agreed to give up 20% of their wages during the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit the aviation industry particularly hard. Now, nearly all Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted and Ryanair is operating as never before, but the company is still withholding a fifth of its pilots' wages.

This weekend, only Ryanair flights operated by non-Belgian pilots will depart, while flights by Belgian pilots will remain on the ground.

For Brussels Airport in Zaventem, it concerns a total of 20 flights: five flights to and from Gerona (Spain), Amman (Jordan), Mallorca, Rome (Italy) and Dublin (Ireland) on Saturday and Sunday, and another five flights to and from Alicante, Valencia (both Spain), Porto (Portugal), Milan and Rome (both Italy) on Sunday.

The situation at Brussels South Airport in Charleroi – Ryanair's largest base in Belgium – remains very unclear: on Friday afternoon, the airport's website still did not state which flights would (not) be taking off.

Non-Belgian crews

However, "at least 49 flights" are already cancelled at Charleroi on Saturday, both arrivals and departures, Hans Elsen of the CNE trade union told De Standaard. "And I consider the chance extremely high that on Sunday, too, 49 flights will be cancelled. I do not know of any Belgian pilots who will strike on Saturday but will work on Sunday."

So far, that means that at least 69 departing or arriving flights scheduled for this weekend have already been cancelled, but Elsen thinks the number will likely go up to 118. If that turns out to be the case, the number of passengers affected would rise to over 20,000.

As of Thursday, Ryanair has been informing passengers whose flights were cancelled via e-mail, The Brussels Times has learned. They were offered both an alternative route and the possibility of a refund of the flight.

Passengers who still have not received a message from Ryanair on Friday afternoon can tentatively assume that their flight will depart as planned this weekend, likely because it will be operated by a non-Belgian crew.

'Minimal disruption'

According to a press release by Ryanair on Friday afternoon, however, the company confirmed that it expects "minimal (if any) disruption to its flights to/from Belgium on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 July."

The company added that "over 90% of Ryanair’s flights to/from Brussels Charleroi and Brussels Zaventem will operate as scheduled this weekend," and that "less than 1%" of its flights this weekend will be affected by the disruptions.

The company also stressed that it reached pay agreements with its Spanish and French pilots (which also organised strikes at the start of the summer), leaving the Belgian pilots as the only group who have not agreed.

"Perhaps the CNE union should now explain why they have failed to agree to pay restoration for Ryanair’s Belgian pilots, when all other pilot groups and unions Continental Europe have now agreed pay restoration deals with Ryanair," said a Ryanair spokesperson.

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This weekend will be the third time in three months that Belgian Ryanair staff have gone on strike: in addition to the dispute about wages, there is also a long-standing conflict about the company's refusal to comply with Belgian labour regulations on, among other things, the minimum wage – even after it was ordered to do so by the court.

"In the meantime, it pays out large sums of money to its shareholders with its €1 billion profit," Elsen said, echoing earlier statements he made to The Brussels Times. "The situation is stuck. Ryanair communicates very aggressively, its strategy is to intimidate."

"The past few days there has been no contact, let alone dialogue. They only sent a threatening letter to the union representatives," he added. "But they will have to come to the table at some point. Ryanair also understands that this period with successive strikes is not tenable."

Here is an overview of what your rights are if your flight was cancelled due to the strikes.

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