Ryanair’s cabin crew in Spain are currently in dispute with the low-cost airline over its plans to close bases in the Canary Islands and Girona. Unions who represent cabin crew and pilots estimate that a total of 512 inflight crew could face the chop if Ryanair goes ahead with its threat. The airline says it has no choice because of delays its facing in delivery of new Boeing 737MAX aircraft from the aerospace giant.
In a bid to make Ryanair reconsider the base closures, a union which represents some directly-employed cabin crew in Spain have called a total of 10-days of strike action throughout September. The SEPLA pilots union has also called for its members to down tools for five days in September in protest.
Unfortunately for the unions, the action hasn’t had much of an impact on its operation – not only is Ryanair able to utilise aircraft and crews from other bases in Europe to fill in the gaps, it also benefits from the fact that many cabin crew are employed by third-party employment agencies and aren’t a member of a union.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Spanish government has waded into the dispute and demanded that the unions provide a certain level of cover on strike days. The authorities claim certain regions would be cut off if all eligible cabin crew and pilots were allowed to down tools so they have imposed a minimum level of cover to ensure connectivity between the mainland and the Spanish islands – in some cases, refusing 90% of eligible cabin crew the right to strike.
The result is that hardly any flights have been cancelled.
Obviously, the unions are furious that the Department of Labour is taking this stance but there is one way they can still support the strike – and it could hurt Ryanair just as much. During the announced strike days, cabin crew are refusing to perform any kind of onboard sales activity – no food or beverage sales, no Duty Free and definitely no scratch cards.
It’s a relatively small gesture but consider how much Ryanair makes out of these ancillary sales – last year, Ryanair made nearly €2.5 billion in “in-flight sales and internet-related services”. In fact, those ancillary sales soared 21% on the previous year and now account for over €17 per booked passenger.
Ancillary sales cover a wide range of services including priority boarding, hold luggage and fast track security, as well as inflight sales such as Duty Free and snacks. Ryanair doesn’t break down its ancillary sales into sub-headings but we do know that it’s an incredibly important revenue stream for the carrier – especially as it faces continuing pressure on yields.
Ryanair is facing growing resentment from pilots and cabin crew in a number of countries including Ireland, Portugal and the UK. Critics claim the airline is not moving fast enough to offer proper contracts for crew that respect their rights in the countries in each they work.