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Brussels Airlines and Ryanair strikes: Latest information on flight cancellations and compensation
Travellers should expect disturbed Belgian skies from 23 June and not only due to potential unstable weather. From Thursday to Saturday, strike action by Brussels Airlines pilots and cabin crew has led to the cancellation of 315 flights, affecting nearly 40,000 travellers, reports RTBF.
From 24 to 26 June, similar disruption is expected at Ryanair. A strike initiated by Belgian cabin crew is supported by pilots. Similar action by airline employees is being taken in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, announced Ryanair.
The disturbance to travel arrangement at the beginning of the busy summer holiday period was predicted. Brussels Airlines pilots filed an indefinite strike notice on 10 June, joined a few days later by stewards and hostesses. Working and financial conditions dominate their grievances, along with an increased workload following the travel sector’s recovery post-pandemic.
"People are already tired just seeing their schedules," said Didier Lebbe, permanent secretary of the CNE trade union. Pilots also denounce the non-indexation of some additional legal benefits, negotiated after the coronavirus crisis and after the restructure of Brussels Airlines in 2020.
This involved the company losing a quarter of its staff (approximately 1,000 workers out of 4,000) and reducing its fleet by 30%. According to unions, nothing had been done to resolve issues raised last summer.
For Ryanair, it was cabin crew who first filed a strike notice, followed by pilots. The employees of the Irish low-cost company are demanding Belgian labour laws to be respected with the guarantee of a minimum wage for everyone. The unions also denounce the absence of an HR department in Belgium that’s familiar with Belgian social legislation. The strike at Ryanair extends to other European countries, including Spain, Portugal, Italy and France.
Brussels Airlines has already announced the cancellation of about 315 flights, including 38 long haul flights, impacting nearly 40,000 passengers.
During the three days of action, 533 flights (including charters) were initially planned for almost 70,000 passengers. Around 40% of the initial flight programme will be maintained, Brussels Airlines hoped on Tuesday. However, the company only had an "intermediate view of the impact of social action and the willingness to work of pilots and cabin crew". It has been seeking solutions within its holding company, the Lufthansa Group, as well as outside the aviation group. Three long-haul aircraft are already operating to cover four flights to Nice and six to Rome.
Ryanair flights currently being cancelled
The latest information on the status of Ryanair’s schedule is that flights operated by the company to Charleroi and Brussels Airport are currently being cancelled, according to Brussel-Airport spokesperson Nathalie Pierard.
There are reports, unconfirmed, that Ryanair is in the process of cancelling around 180 flights.
The last strike action by company employees in April resulted in the cancellation of nearly 300 flights at the airports of Zaventem (Brussels Airport) and Charleroi (BSCA).
Reassurance about passengers’ legal rights was outlined by secretary of state for consumer protection Eva De Bleeker (Open Vld) on Sunday.
"Consumers whose flight would be cancelled due to the strike announced at Brussels Airport on Monday 20 June, at Brussels Airlines on 23, 24 and 25 June or at Ryanair on 23, 24 and 25 June, are entitled to an alternative flight or reimbursement."
Alternative flights or reimbursements
In principle, it’s up to the airline to inform its customers of the cancellation of a flight. The company must then offer an alternative flight or reimbursement for the flight. The alternative flights offered may be within a short-term or longer-term period.
In addition to the possible reimbursement of the plane ticket or its replacement by an alternative flight, the traveller is entitled to compensation under certain conditions.
If the traveller arrives at the final destination with a delay of more than three hours, compensation is due, except in cases of force majeure.
If the flight departure time is delayed by at least five hours or if the flight is cancelled, the passenger is entitled to an alternative flight or to a refund and compensation. This amounts to €250, €400 or €600, depending on the distance.
If a flight is delayed for more than two hours, the airline is obliged to offer meals and refreshments, depending on the waiting time, as well as two free telephone calls or emails. If the airline changes the traveller's flight, it should offer one night's accommodation in a hotel and transportation to the hotel. If the company does not do this, passengers are recommended to keep proof of payment for refreshments, meals or hotel nights.
For strike action to be considered a case of force majeure, the reason for the flight delay or cancellation must not directly concern the airline. A strike by baggage handlers or air traffic controllers would be considered a case of force majeure. European case law has already clarified that a strike by airline staff due to working conditions is not a case of force majeure.
Since the strikes at Brussels Airlines and Ryanair meet this condition, travellers may be compensated if the flight is delayed by more than three hours.
If a flight booked with an agency or a tour operator as part of a package tour (flight + stay), you must contact the travel organiser, for example the travel agency. The latter must offer an equivalent alternative or a corresponding price reduction. It’s also possible to cancel the trip free of charge and obtain a full refund.
If the airline refuses to modify or refund the ticket, travellers can turn to the FPS Mobility department to file a complaint. They can also contact the Consumer Mediation Service (in the event of a problem with Belgian companies) or the European Consumer Centre (in the event of a problem with foreign companies) to find an amicable settlement. Consumers may, however, lose their right to compensation or reimbursement if they seek a solution themselves.
Consumer organisation Test Achats sets out the compensation process on its website and can be contacted by phone on 0800 29 510. The European Consumer Center can also help travellers with these procedures.
Strike actions also risk preventing travellers currently abroad from returning to Belgium. If it’s a return flight that is cancelled, the company must offer an alternative flight or a refund and take care of the stranded passengers awaiting a solution.
If you cannot wait for an alternative solution to be offered by the airline and book a return flight via another company, you are still entitled to reimbursement for the initial flight. If necessary, try to recover the expenses incurred in returning return home. It’s not an easy process, but not impossible.
Photo: Brussels Airport on 23 June © Eric Lalmand/Belga