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It's the season of airport strikes, during which unions - maybe justifiably, maybe not - burn whatever sympathy the public has for them by grinding airports to a halt. Every single time some group of airport or airline workers tries something like this, travelers followed by huge swaths of the public turn against the strikers. And yet here we are, all together, again.
This time it's a strike by French air traffic controllers. First the walkout resulted in the cancellation of more than 2,000 flights in France60 percent of the country's flightsand then it began cascading across Europe.
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Here's some news of a looming airline strike just in time to throw a wrench in holiday travel plans. This time it's Cathay Pacific and, instead of reduced flying schedule or cancelled flights, the cabin crew will be cancelling meals and reducing smiles.
Last week, Cathay's flight attendant union asked for a 5% pay increase, but the airline only offered an additional 2% with a 13th month bonus. The union isn't cool with this and voted to withhold meals, drinks and smiles from passengers during the busy holiday season. If it comes down to not serving some food, the union will notify passengers to bring their own food aboard.
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Poor American Airlines. They try so hard to get good buzz with interesting angles, handing out iPads to their pilots and flight attendants, offering bonus miles in exchange for Hurricane Isaac donations, and expanding their baggage delivery options. They had almost recovered from their early September PR debacle, where they refused to let a teen with down syndrome board because he was a "flight risk."
But now they're trying to cope with this sort-of airline strike by their pilots, and they're not doing well. Last week a sitting member of the United States Senatethat would be one of the hundred human beings currently serving in the upper chamber of the United States Congresstweeted his frustration with the airline. Hashtag: #cmonman.
Lufthansa has enough money to bail out subsidiaries, design multimedia enhanced iPad apps, and pay for planking-centric travel advertising. What they don't have money to do is pay their cabin crews what their cabin crews want to be paid. And thus we come to the part of our story where 26,000 travelers got stranded across Europe today.
Lufthansa crews, having warned the airline that they were going to go on strike, staged an eight-hour walkout at Frankfurt this morning. More than 220 FRA flights were canceled, including those servicing some U.S. cities, Tel Aviv, and India. Frankfurt being Europe's third busiest airport, the delays and cancellations quickly rippled across the continent. At one point the airport closed off incoming flights from other European airports because it simply ran out of open space.
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We already talked about how the CEO of Qantas decided to counter industrial action by shutting down the complete worldwide operations. Since that weekend, Qantas is back up in the skies with a new motto, "Book with confidence and certainty," and a lot of explaining to do for the more than 70,000 passengers that were left stranded.
Leaving travelers stranded and with unanswered questions, Qantas had to do something. During the shutdown, the company offered to reimburse those who needed to re-book on different airlines, even pay the difference of airfares. For those who decided to stay in the city in which they were stranded, Qantas paid hotels, meals and phone calls up to a certain amount. If you were one of the unlucky passengers and you're still struggling to figure out what you get from all this, visit Qantas' website for more details.
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As the airline industry settles in for a winter of labor turmoil, we here at Jaunted are becoming resigned to what will be an endless series of airline strike stories. And while we could just update you with lines like "were you thinking of going to [destination X that's totally hosed] some time soon? If so, don't"that seems just a little bit flippant. Although if you were thinking of going to Canada, France, Australia, or India some time soon, there's a good chance you're going to want to consider travelers' insurance.
A few days ago we told you that the Qantas and Air France strikes were winding down, which was technically true. As of yesterday Qantas had resumed all flights and Air France was operating at 90%. Butbecause this is how things are going to go now, apparentlynone of the issues have been resolved. So everything could kick up again before the month is over.
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Australia's flagship carrier Qantas had been having labor problems for months. Within the last few weeks the union representing the airline's mechanics, pilots, baggage handlers and caterers escalated the dispute, launching a series of rolling work stoppages that triggered dozens of cancellations and created general chaos.
Then, over the weekend, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce re-raised by straight-up shutting down the airline, essentially forcing the situation.
As management no doubt hoped would happen, a hastily-called court brought the parties together, turned to the unions, and told them to get back to work. Qantas will now spend the next few days picking itself off the floor as flights begin again. Our backgrounder on the strike itself and the slow recovery is here, including details on how the airline tried to mitigate the pain over the weekend.
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Wow. This last weekend was not commercial aviation's finest hour whatsoever. In fact, one could say it was a farce! Three events contributed to the stranding of thousands of travelers and the cancellations of flights originating from places as wide-ranging as Australia and Hartford, CT.
Today, air traffic should be running more smoothly, and here's the latest updates on each situation:
· The Qantas shutdown: Confrontations between the Australian airline and its labor unions reached such a level that Qantas CEO Alan Joyce shut down all Qantas mainline flight operations on Saturday, shutting out employees. Passengers boarding onto Qantas planes at the time were told to return to the terminal, and other airlines (mainly V Australia, Singapore Airlines, Etihad and Air New Zealand) mobilized to run extra planes, special routes and limited pricing to essentially rescue the stranded.
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The timing of the royal wedding, coming as close as it does to Easter, means that Brits are in for an unprecedented four bank holidays in close succession. Many have made vacation plans to go to Europe mainland or further, and the country is ramping up to shake off winter with a wave of travel. So naturally British Airways workers have decided that now is the perfect time to organize an airline strike, because that's what they do.
Though we kind of hate them, we really have to admire how Ryanair is approaching the potential strike. The Irish airline sent 18 red roses to union bosses, and announced that "Ryanair is starting to really warm to the UNITE union, who continue to cause uncertainty for BA holidaymakers at peak times of the year and now, with their fourth set of strikes in less than 18 months, they will encourage even more BA passengers to switch to Ryanair’s low fare." That sounds about right.
After the jump, what you need to know about how the strike will affect you.
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Airline labor unions often have debates so convoluted that we tend to find them just aggravatingly myopic and selfish, but then it goes to another level.
The newest example is what happened in Argentina over the weekend, where Buenos Aires was effectively shut down because two douchebag Aerolineas Argentinas pilots from two different unions got into a fist fight with each other. Instead of saying something like "yeah, our pilots probably shouldn't have done that," their respective unions threw temper tantrums and went on strike to protect them.
The result: the airline had to be shut down. Argentina's chief domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, had to be closed. The country's top international airport, Ezeiza International Airport, tried to handle the overload, and more or less failed. Tens of thousands of travelers saw their flights moved or canceled. Hundreds of thousands saw their travel weekend become a disaster.
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Following up on the weekend strikes in London and Paris, the phrase that the Associated Press is going with this mornning is "season of strikes in Europe." Put bluntly: there's not enough money to go around, and workers aren't going to go to their jobs unless they get more of it. It's not just Greece, although of course it's Greece too. Spain and the Czech Republic are hosed as well, and when you add them to the UK, France, and Italy you start to run out of countries that aren't going broke.
Now this is normally where we'd tell you that bad times overseas equal good travel opportunities from here. The problem is that you actually have to be able to get to those places, and a wave of airline strikes is about to start making that dicey. Virgin Atlantic just narrowly averted a strike, but they're pretty much the only ones. British Airways workers apparently have decided to walk out again, because that's who they are and that's what they do. Meanwhile roughly the entire country of India is facing labor-driven transportation disruptions.
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The last Monday of August is a Bank Holiday in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and roughly a million Brits accordingly use the extended weekend to vacation out of the country. If the BAA employees at London-Heathrow, London-Stansted, Glasgow, Southampton, Edinburgh and Aberdeen make good on their threat to walk out, the loss of firefighters and security staff would force the airports to close, functionally stranding anyone who wants to get in or out of Britain (with the exception of London-Gatwick, London-City airports).
When British Airways employees tried this stunt last year they got slapped down by a judge, because timing your strike to wreck the UK economy violates British fair play or something. Nice to see that the Unite union, which represents both the BA employees and the airport employees who are threatening to strike at the end of the month, is willing to trot out the same routine again. To their friends and family it probably demonstrates admirable spunk. To the rest of the UK, to anyone who needs to fly through the UK, and to anyone at any airport anywhere in the world that will be affected by UK cancellations, it's just obnoxious.