Ryanair chooses to cancel business meetings, not family holidays

Pilots’ union will have to recruit more members if it wants more muscle

There generally are no winners in industrial disputes. Most end with the sides compromising on some, if not all, elements of the disagreements that sparked them. Workers do not get all that they are seeking, and management is forced to make concessions it would not contemplate at the start.

Even when they are over, the bad blood and damage to the brand tend to linger.

But Ryanair appears poised to emerge relatively unscathed from its first brush with the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (Ialpa), whose directly employed members at the carrier are due to strike over 24 hours today, beginning at 1am.

Ryanair will cancel 30 of 290 flights from the Republic as a consequence of the action. All the services it is axing are to the UK, on routes it flies frequently, allowing it maximum scope to offer alternatives to the 5,000 or so travellers affected.

The airline is safeguarding services to sunshine destinations, the ones in most demand at this time of year as families head off on holidays. Ryanair knows that cancelling these services had the potential to do most damage.

All the passengers who voiced concerns ahead of the strike feared its impact on family holidays, stag parties, and even weddings that they had planned for months. No one gave out about the prospect of missing a business meeting in Dulwich.

Union members

Ryanair is able to avoid the strike’s worst consequences because about 250 of the pilots working at its Irish bases are not union members. This illustrates the difficulty facing not just Ialpa but other such groups when they take on Ryanair. Even after the union’s breakthrough last year, large numbers of the airline’s staff are not organised.

Ialpa’s only real solution is to recruit more members. Its existing cohort are directly employed. As most of the rest are treated as self-employed, there is a legal difficulty with joining, as a group of sole traders collectively negotiating pay could be classed as a cartel. Ialpa will clearly have to navigate this problem if it wants more muscle.