Ryanair has warned that Europe’s skies risk grinding to a halt this summer as French air traffic control (ATC) strikes threaten to delay or cancel hundreds of flights heading south this weekend.
The Irish airline says that more than 71,000 flights were delayed in May, affecting 200,000 of its passengers, because of ATC shortages and strikes, and accused providers of using “adverse weather” excuses to cover staffing issues.
The budget carrier said that the EU is set to treble its delay per flight target of 0.5 minutes, with the 2018 average heading towards 1.5 minutes per flight.
Ryanair itself was forced to cancel “just over 1,000 flights, almost all due to ATC staff shortages and strikes” in May, 24 times as many as it cancelled in the same month last year. It said EasyJet, too, cancelled 974, up from 117 last year.
“Yet again this weekend, French ATC will strike on Saturday and Sunday leading to hundreds of flights being cancelled, disrupting the holiday plans of thousands of passengers,” said Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary.
“Many of these flights don’t even touch France, yet they will be disruptive because French ATC requires airlines to cancel overflights while they protect French domestic routes. Europe’s airlines are also suffering thousands of ATC delays/cancellations because of staff shortages especially in German and UK ATC providers.
"These disruptions are unacceptable, and we call on the UK and German Governments, and the EU Commission to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that ATC providers are fully staffed and that overflights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France.”
O’Leary said European ATC providers are “approaching the point of meltdown”, adding that the situation is “particularly acute at weekends where British and German ATC providers are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as ‘capacity restrictions’ when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate”.
Earlier this month, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, which owns British Airways, said that air traffic control strikes on the Continent were more of a threat to airlines than rising fuel prices.
“The thing most impacting is ATC strikes and the ongoing ATC environment, which is a mess,” he told an aviation summit in Sydney. “It is destroying traffic throughout Europe. We thought it would get better in 2018 but it’s getting worse.”
ATC strikes cause delays as airlines must find ways to re-route flights around sectors unable to handle capacity and airports begin to regulate arrivals.
Air traffic control strikes in France are particularly troublesome because many flights leaving the UK have to use the country’s airspace or fly longer routes, which uses more fuel and is therefore more costly.
Flight operations firm Eurocontrol has warned that the strikes in Marseille this weekend will “significantly decrease” ATC capacity in the south of France.
Am I entitled to a refund if my airline cancels my flight?
Yes. European Union regulations require airlines to offer you either a full refund for the unused parts of your tickets, or to re-route you to your destination as soon as possible. Some airlines may also allow you to rebook your flights for a later date at no extra cost.
Will I get compensation?
Airlines are not liable to pay the additional cash compensation set out by EU regulations because they are not directly responsible for the disruption.
What should I do if I am stranded abroad?
EU regulations make it clear that, when a flight with an EU airline or from an EU airport is cancelled, an airline is liable to pay for the cost of a hotel and subsistence for all those stranded as a result, until a replacement flight is provided. Should your airline advise you to buy your own food and accommodation, keep all receipts, and keep such costs to a reasonable minimum, before making a claim when you get back to Britain.
What about package holidays?
Those passengers on package holidays who are stranded in a destination should be looked after by their tour operator, and the operator is legally obliged to get them home. Customers will usually be allowed to stay in their original hotel, or will be moved to one of a similar standard on a half-board or all-inclusive basis. The exact situation will depend on the operator’s booking terms and conditions.
My flight has been cancelled - can I cancel my accommodation?
If you have booked a hotel, a villa or other accommodation independently of your travel arrangements (i.e not as part of a package holiday) your contract is directly with the hotel or villa and you are responsible for any cancellation. If you can’t get there, you will have to do your best to persuade them to give you a refund or rebook for a later date – but they are not obliged to do this and you may lose money.