Budget airlines back in the news.jpg

Budget airlines back in the news

Low cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair are back in the news this week over a range of issues. Ryanair staff members are striking and EasyJet is concerned over plans to raise taxes on flights.

Ryanair staff rebelling

Low cost airline Ryanair has threatened to pull out of four Spanish routes after baggage handlers in Spain went on strike over working conditions.

British holidaymakers heading to Spain were forced to abandon their suitcases at Stansted as a result of the recent action, and passengers on 40 Ryanair flights were only allowed to take hand luggage. Many were unaware of this before arriving at the airport.

Meanwhile, travellers returning to Britain from the affected airports were forced to abandon their bags and carry what they could on board.

The strikes took the form of two, four-hour walk-outs at Girona, Seville, Granada and Jerez airports. Lesser disruption occurred at Reus, Santiago, Almeria, Murcia, Valencia, Zaragoza, Santander, Vitoria and Valladolid.

The Spanish baggage handlers accuse Ryanair of ignoring written agreements over working practices and are planning further 24-hour walkouts. Ryanair said it would be unable to accept checked baggage on flights to and from Girona, Seville, Granada and Jerez if the strikes continue.

In a separate protest over working conditions, 60 staff working for Ryanair in Italy are refusing to sell “extras”, such as hot drinks, food and alcohol on flights, although they continue to sell water. A spokesman for the Italian strikers said workers are protesting because Ryanair refused to engage in talks with their union and said they planned to step up the action.

The protests look likely to spread even wider. Ingo Marowsky, secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said members from Europe’s leading transport unions had met to discuss the possibility of a unified strike that would target Ryanair operations across Europe. “We are only asking that Ryanair complies with basic working practices over pay, staffing levels and hours of shifts,” said Mr Marowsky. “Workers feel mistrusted, marginalised

and mistreated.”

Ryanair, which carried a record four million passengers in August, has threatened to pull out of affected routes permanently if the problems continue. “If the unwarranted and unjustified disruptions to flights to Granada, Girona, Seville and Jerez do not stop, we will be forced to cease operating routes to these airports at the end of November,” said a spokeswoman. “Our employees have always been free to join trade unions. However, we deal directly with their elected representatives and will not be bullied or blackmailed into doing otherwise by a Spanish union or a tiny number of our 3,500 employees.”

The spokeswoman claimed that Ryanair staff are better paid than staff of other major European airlines.

Passengers arriving for Ryanair flights on Monday at airports where there are no baggage-handling facilities will be able to re-book their flights free of charge.

Union officials said other airlines flying to Spain or Italy, including EasyJet, Flybe and British Airways, would be unaffected by the strikes.

EasyJet opposes air travel tax

Meanwhile, leading low cost carrier, EasyJet, has criticised the UK Conservative Party’s plans for a tax on air travel, claiming the poor would be priced out of flying.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has said that he favours new taxes on pollution, including a levy on flights.

Research released this week by Oxford University predicts that carbon emissions will account for a quarter of national emissions by 2050, up from 5.5 per cent at present. Air travel has reached its highest level since the September 11 attacks in 2001, while airport expansion will enable the number of British passengers to more than double – from 200 million in 2003, to 470 million in 2030.

Despite this growth, a spokesman for EasyJet said it would be wrong to increase taxation on flights. “Taxation is a blunt instrument that will only put more money into the pockets of governments, while discriminating against the poorest in society, who, until recently, were priced out of the sky.”

The airline argues that there are other ways of improving the efficiency of air travel.

One would involve better air traffic management so that aircraft take the most direct route between airports. Another might be to remove subsidies given to national airlines that enable them to operate “uneconomical routes with old, polluting, half-empty aircraft”.

However, the Oxford University report claims that three out of four passengers at major British airports are from the top three socio-economic groups, and that there is little evidence that the less well-off have benefited from the low price of air travel.

Unlike David Cameron, most British travellers seem unconcerned by the impact of air travel on the environment. A survey this week of 1,000 British air travellers, conducted by a leading travel company, revealed that less than a quarter would be willing to pay to offset the carbon emissions caused by their trips.