Skip to content
This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies. You can change your settings or learn more here.
OK
Image: Shutterstock/InsectWorld

'Disrespecting pilots will not help solve our shared problems': Ryanair captains speak out

An experienced Ryanair captain based in Europe describes to TheJournal.ie what it is like working for the company.
Sep 29th 2017, 6:11 AM 39,331 62

LOW-BUDGET AIRLINE Ryanair has come under increasing pressure in recent months over widespread flight cancellations, rostering issues and discontent among its staff.

The company announced on Wednesday it was cancelling a further 18,000 flights, which will affect 400,000 customers, and was slowing its planned growth.

It said that these cancellations would address any rostering issues the airline was facing.

(This comes after the airline announced that up to 50 flights a day would be cancelled throughout the month of October)

Following on from the widespread cancellations, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said on Wednesday that it was taking enforcement action against the airline for “persistently misleading passengers”.

Compounding the airline’s problems is a growing discontent among the company’s pilots, who have been agitating publicly for improved employment terms.

Ryanair has repeatedly insisted that the flight cancellations are down to a rostering issue, with the company having to account for a large number of holidays for pilots before the year’s end.

However, there have been numerous reports of the airline dealing with large numbers of pilots leaving and being unable to recruit new ones.

Last week, the Irish Times reported claims from the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) that 700 pilots had left the airline over the last financial year.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Ryanair said that claims around pilots leaving were “false”.

“In the current year under 100 captains have left (mainly to retirement or long haul airlines) and less than 160 first officers (mostly to long haul airlines),” the airline said.

Over the next 8 months Ryanair has recruited and will train over 650 pilots not only to replace these leavers/retirees but also to crew up for the 50 new Boeing aircraft we will buy to May 2018 to bring our fleet to 445 for S18.

As the cancellation controversy has rumbled on, pilots have been expressing their discontent with management and employee terms and conditions at the airline.

Pilots at Ryanair bases across Europe wrote to management earlier this week rejecting a proposed €12,000 bonus for them to forego their annual leave, and calling for better work conditions.

The pilots said that the terms around the €12,000 bonus were too restrictive.

Following on from this, pilots from 60 Ryanair bases signed a letter sent to management on Wednesday.

“We were disappointed to hear the CEO at press conferences before the weekend speak in a negative and disparaging way about pilots,” pilots wrote.

“Respect for our passengers, and now respect for pilots, is at the heart of our
present difficulties.

The disrespect shown to both passengers and pilots by company management has not and will not help to solve our shared problems at the moment.

Issues 

Pilots have been speaking out publicly since the Ryanair controversy began about their issues with the airline.

One captain based at an airport in Europe spoke to TheJournal.ie on condition of anonymity about some of the issues they experienced with the airline.

The captain described a culture of hostility between staff and management at the company.

A large number of pilots are contractors of the company and not official employees.

As well as rostering issues and rows regarding overtime, the captain said that were more basic issues around the terms and conditions of employees that concerned them.

“Pilots don’t get pens for example or clipboards to go to do their job,” they said.

I know it’s a minor thing but it’s typical of the company so we’ve to go into work, we have no pens. You have to have your own pen to go into work to do your work.

The pilot said there were also issues around food and water during long flights.

“There’s water provided in the crew rooms before you go. But you might have a long, 12-hour day with diversions where you run out of water and you have nothing,” the captain said.

You have nowhere to get water so you have to buy it off the cabin crew. Or any food you have to buy.

There are also issues when being called off standby.

“Sometimes if you’re called off of standby and you have to be in the airport in an hour, you may not have food ready,” they said.

So you might have had no money on you or lost your card and you’re screwed. There’s no way of getting food provided for you even though you might have a long day.

Pilots

As issues at the airline have mounted and staff at bases across Europe have spoken out, questions have been raised about employee terms and conditions with the airline.

However, Ryanair has repeatedly insisted that the cancellations are due to a rostering issue around holidays and nothing else.

“We originally believed we could address this issue by incentivising pilots to work multiple days off, or work one or more week of your allocated annual leave,” chief operations officer Michael Hickey said in a letter to staff on Wednesday (seen by TheJournal.ie).

Hickey said that the issue was being “exploited by competitor pilots” to claim that Ryanair was short on pilots.

“None of these claims are true but we recognise that working days off is unsustainable over the medium- to long-term,” Hickey said.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, the captain said that pilots were leaving as there were better terms and conditions at other airlines and increased opportunities.

“Leaving is something I would consider,” the captain said.

There are a lot more opportunities now than before.

They said the problems for the airline could increase as “hundreds” of Ryanair pilots would potentially already be in holding pools for other airlines, waiting for a start date.

“So the company wouldn’t know that these pilots are in holding pools for other airlines and as soon as the other airline tells that pilot they have a start date then that pilot would hand in their notice to Ryanair,” said the captain.

Demands

The pilots – represented at each of Ryanair’s bases by groups called ERCs – have set out a list of common demands from the company in exchange for their full support in tackling work issues.

The cancellation issue comes on the back of a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling which determined that the airline’s crew members have the option of bringing industrial relations proceedings before the courts in the countries in which they are based.

Before now, Ryanair could automatically refer disputes for staff based overseas to the Irish courts. At the time of the ruling earlier this month, unions welcomed the fact that Ryanair could be stopped from skirting local labour laws in other European countries.

This ruling is reflected in the letter from pilots to management on Wednesday. In the letter, the ERCs of 60 Ryanair bases across Europe (out of 87 bases in total) laid out a list of requests it asked to company to address.

The requests are as follows:

  1. Permanent local contracts – following national laws and rights
  2. Co-ordination between regional pilot teams – recognised as negotiating partners
  3. Benchmarking of conditions with regional competitor airlines to stem the exit of pilots
  4. New contracts, properly negotiated, by 01 Jan 2018 – with agreed interim arrangements if negotiations are delayed
  5. Pilots are pilots – they will therefore have their own professional assistance for any negotiations
  6. Pilots want Ryanair to succeed and thrive. They want to minimise cancellations and will support as much as possible every effort to achieve this stability
  7. Pilots will surrender some of their leave to help resolve the current problems, but only in the context of the changes outlined above

In response to letters of this sort, Ryanair said in its Wednesday statement:

“We will not respond or accede to anonymous demands made via unsigned emails for group or regional meetings, or for union interference at these internal ERC meetings.

Many of our pilots and ERCs have confirmed that these unsigned letters were drafted by pilots/unions of competitor airlines who wish to pursue an industrial relations agenda at the expense of Ryanair and its pilots.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, the captain said that there was sizeable bad sentiment among staff and that issues at the airline had been going on “for years”.

The captain said he had no sense of loyalty with the company, despite having worked there for a number of years.

Why would you when you’re treated badly? It’s an absolute toxic atmosphere between management and crew.

In response to a request for comment from TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for Ryanair said:

We don’t comment on rumour or speculation.

Poll: Has your trust in Ryanair wavered?

Read: Up to 400,000 people will be hit with fresh Ryanair flight cancellations

Send a tip to the author

Cormac Fitzgerald

COMMENTS (62)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a comment

     
    cancel reply
    Back to top