Wednesday 16 January 2019

High-flyers are winners if they strike -- or not

Aer Lingus pilots have won already. They have delivered something quite unusual: a victory over their feisty German CEO, Christoph Mueller.

And that is before today's Labour Relations Commission emergency talks have ended.

There is a pattern to these Aer Lingus emergency negotiations. While unions do not threaten to strike, they do something small that inflicts disproportionate damage.

All the pilots had to say was that they would check in an hour later for work.


The talks go on forever. They break down spectacularly. Sometimes the issues are big, sometimes they are so obscure that the public is at a loss as to what they are all about.

The perils of six-one rostering fall into that category.

There are firefights within the union side and the management side we never hear about.

The power play in the background between the Dublin-based pilots and their colleagues at other bases is an example of this.

And just when the last departure call has been made, they end in some sort of agreement in the early hours of the morning with red-eyed negotiators coming out of talks, sometimes not sure exactly what has been agreed.

That is exactly what will happen today. But, in the internet age, the pilots have won.

They have reminded Aer Lingus they still have power beyond the equally cranky baggage handlers and cabin crew.

They might as well have gone on strike. Forward bookings have been devastated. The airline has lost an estimated €1m for every day of planned action without any strike happening at all.

Passengers have been betrayed again. Investors, shy of touching an airline which is controlled by two blocks of negative thinking, the Government and its biggest rival Ryanair, will run shy.

Panic-stricken holidaymakers have cancelled, rescheduled or moved their business elsewhere. Business people have despaired about whether it is worth handing back their frequent-flyer cards.

On Saturday, a flurry of emails from Aer Lingus partners offered their passengers alternative connecting flights.

The message that we got this weekend is clear. That we are still served by a dysfunctional airline, staffed by people who play games with our money and our lives and who regard the business of flying us from place to place as something to be delivered on their terms, not the airline's or the public's.


The attitude is retro in today's climate. It infused most public services in years gone by and can still be found through the flag-carriers of the world.

The pilots were not the only winners today. Michael O'Leary didn't have to stay up all night and he can show up in the winners' enclosure. As for the rest of us, we lost again.

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