Ryanair canceled scores of European flights on Friday as unions staged what they warned could be the biggest strike in the airline’s history.
The Dublin-based carrier has played down fears of widespread disruption but confirmed it would cancel about 250 flights.
“Today, over 2,150 Ryanair flights (90 percent of our schedule) will operate as normal carrying 400,000 customers across Europe,” the airline said in a statement.
Walk-outs by cabin crew took place in Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. In some countries, pilots’ unions also took action.
At Charleroi Airport in Belgium, around 20 strikers unfurled a strike banner at the terminal and four of 12 scheduled services were canceled.
“Some cabin crew staff earn 2,000 euros, and you have a colleague who does exactly the same work, who only earns 1,000 euros, and with 1,000 euros in Belgium, it is impossible to live,” said Yves Lambot of the CNE union in Belgium.
Tensions ran high at Eindhoven Airport in the Netherlands where some passengers had already passed through security when a flight to London was canceled with just half-an-hour until take-off.
The Dutch union VNV said it was seeking to take legal action to prevent Ryanair from bringing pilots in from abroad to replace striking Dutch crews.
At Porto airport, where Ryanair has its main base in Portugal, about 10 people queued up Friday morning in front of the airline’s counter to find alternatives to canceled flights.
“The company has provided a bus. It’s not that comfortable. Instead of 50 minutes, the trip will take five hours. But at least I will arrive today,” one traveler told Portugal’s SIC television.
Affected customers received email and text message notifications on Tuesday to advise them of cancellations and options, Ryanair said.
Trade unions hope that Friday’s 24-hour stoppage will be the biggest strike in the Irish carrier’s history.
Ryanair staff have been seeking higher wages and an end to the practice whereby many have been working as independent contractors without the benefits of staff employees.
A key complaint of workers based in countries other than Ireland is the fact that Ryanair has been employing them under Irish legislation.
Staff claim this creates huge insecurity for them, blocking their access to state benefits in their country.
EU Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said on Wednesday aircrew should be employed under contracts from the country where they work.
“Respecting EU law is not something over which workers should have to negotiate, nor is it something which can be done differently from country to country. I made this very clear to Mr. O’Leary today,” Thyssen said in a statement after a meeting between Ryanair’s combative chief executive Michael O’Leary and EU officials.
At a press conference the same day, O’Leary called for a cancellation of the strike, threatening that he would shrink Ryanair’s fleet at two Brussels airports if it went ahead.
Last month, Ryanair pilots across Europe staged a coordinated 24-hour stoppage to push their demands for better pay and conditions, plunging tens of thousands of passengers into transport chaos at the peak of the busy summer season.
In July, strikes by cockpit and cabin crew disrupted 600 flights in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, affecting 100,000 travelers.
This week, Ryanair signed deals with cabin crew unions in Italy to provide employment contracts under Italian law.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has called on Ryanair to compensate passengers affected by the strikes.