Bookings with Aer Lingus have flatlined since pilot vote, say travel agents

Industrial action causing ‘huge stress’ among holidaymakers and within tourism industry

Travel agents reported a slowdown even before the work to rule was confirmed with customers not willing to take a chance on delays or cancellations. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Industrial action at Aer Lingus has caused “absolutely huge” stress among Irish holidaymakers, and bookings with the airline have flatlined since pilots backed their union’s call to escalate their pay dispute, travel agents have said.

Pilots, who are pursuing 20 per cent-plus pay rises, will work strictly to rule indefinitely from next Wednesday, June 26th, the Irish Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa) said on Tuesday following days of speculation over what form any industrial action would take.

Irish Travel Agents Association chief executive Clare Dunne said holidaymakers were already avoiding bookings with Aer Lingus on foot of the dispute.

“We’ve just been on a call with the Department of Transport and the stress levels among consumers is absolutely huge,” she said. “People don’t know if they’re going to get on their holidays, and they have been planning them since last year.


“Looking forward to the holiday is so much an important part of the holiday, and that has been taken away from people.

“They are inflicting damage on Aer Lingus already because people aren’t booking. What we’re hearing around the country is that people are booking with other carriers. Anybody planning to go in the next few weeks is very reluctant to commit to Aer Lingus.

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“Surely somebody somewhere can get sense to prevail. For the consumer, the potential disruption is huge.”

Speaking before Ialpa announced details of its work to rule, Ms Dunne said the industrial action — and the threat of strike action — was also affecting business travel. “They’ve picked the peak time,” she said. “Any contingencies by Aer Lingus to accommodate passengers on their partner carriers is limited because of the time of year.

“It’s not just holidaymakers. Business people are travelling every day, and that is massively important to the Irish economy. The reputational damage to Ireland Inc is huge as well. There’s a lot at stake here.”

Also speaking earlier on Tuesday, Mary McKenna, chief executive of Tour America and Cruise Holidays, said “a lot of clients” had been making inquiries about what would happen if a strike went ahead.

“We have advised them that they can change their travel plans or wait to see what happens,” she said.

“If the strike goes ahead, we will assist them with rebooking on to another flight for their holiday, and will also assist them on claiming any expenses incurred from the airline once they return from holiday.

“I truly hope this does not go ahead as it will have a huge impact on all customers travelling in and out of Ireland, and clients will find it impossible to reach the airline.”

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Maura Fahy, managing director of Fahy Travel in Galway, said she would not be comfortable making bookings for customers with Aer Lingus.

“Nothing has been cancelled yet but there is certainly a lot of concern out there,” she said. “There is particular concern among people who have holidays booked to go now or in the next three or four weeks. Particularly those going to the United States are worried about whether they will be able to come back. There are a lot of questions around it.

“The other thing is there has been a slowdown in bookings for Aer Lingus because not only do the customers not want to take a chance on it, neither do we. Not to say that they may as well be on strike already, but, from a sales point of view, it has got to be really difficult for them.”

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Ms Fahy said she would normally do “quite a high percentage” of her business with Aer Lingus, but that there is “no interest” at the moment.

“We wouldn’t even offer it to anyone who is travelling in the next month,” she said. “We can’t because we just can’t take that chance with our customers. Our sales on Aer Lingus are nil at the moment.”

Irish Tourism Industry Confederation chief executive Eoghan O’Mara Walsh said a strike would be “very damaging”.

“Tourism is the country’s largest indigenous industry and biggest regional employer and, as an island nation, air access is obviously critical,” he said. “Aer Lingus are the main player on the key transatlantic route and also have a very important short-haul network to key source markets in Britain and Europe.”

Mr O’Mara Walsh said: “We would encourage resolution of the dispute and Fórsa should re-engage with the Workplace Relations Commission — that is the independent statutory body to resolve these issues.”

He added that 2024 was “already looking like a soft season” and that even the threat of strike “could spook overseas markets who might be slow to commit to Ireland as a holiday choice”.

“Our reputation as a friendly welcoming destination has been hard won but could be quickly lost,” he added.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter