General Industry

Europe's Ongoing Strike-Related Travel Disruptions

By Dave Simpson
Europe's Ongoing Strike-Related Travel Disruptions

European airports are in the midst of another busy summer as passenger numbers globally recover to pre-pandemic levels, while airline and airport staff continue wage talks.

The travel industry is on high alert for disruption after Europe's peak season last year was hit by cancellations, causing chaos at airports. This summer, air traffic control issues are likely to be the weak spot, according to warnings from Eurocontrol, which manages European airspace.

Here is a summary of recent developments:


One of the Eurocontrol trade unions has announced a six-month period when industrial action could take place in the Network Manager Operations Centre, which oversees traffic across the European airspace, the pan-European organisation said on 7 July. The union has not set specific dates for a strike.


Ryanair pilots in Belgium will strike on 15-16 July in demand of higher wages and better working conditions, their union said on 7 July. The strike could affect around 140 flights from Charleroi airport, but it is yet unclear how many pilots will join and how many flights will need to be cancelled.



Around 950 workers at Britain's number two airport, Gatwick, including ground staff, baggage handlers and check-in agents, will strike due to a pay dispute from 28 July-1 August and from 4-8 August, the Unite trade union said on July 14.

Concerns over air traffic control delays already prompted EasyJet to axe 2% of its summer flight schedule on 10 July, affecting holiday plans of 180,000 customers. The airline cancelled 1,700 flights, mostly from Gatwick, for the rest of July and August.

At Birmingham Airport, around 100 security officers and terminal technicians will begin continuous strike action from 18 July. The strikes will severely impact the airport's security and terminal maintenance, leading to flight delays, Unite said.


Repeated air traffic control (ATC) strikes in France, related to President Emmanuel Macron's plan to raise pension age, have led to delays and limited flights across the country, causing more air space congestion in Europe.

Ryanair, which has asked the European Commission to protect overflights from strike disruption, cancelled more than 900 flights in June mainly due to French ATC strikes.



Multiple unions have called a nationwide airport staff strike on 15 July related to talks for a new collective contract. Air traffic controllers, baggage handlers and check-in personnel along with Italian pilots of Vueling will walk out between 10am and 6pm local time. Malta Air pilots and flight attendants will join them from noon for four hours.

Talking to Italian media, Transport Minister Matteo Salvini said the companies and workers would meet the following week to continue negotiations.

Air traffic control company ENAV has confirmed there will be no strikes in the Italian air transport sector between 27 July and 5 September due to a summer exemption provided for in the industry regulations.


Easyjet cancelled 350 flights arriving to or departing from Portugal ahead of a cabin staff strike on 21-25 July, the SNPVAC union of civil aviation flight personnel said. It will be the union's third strike since the beginning of the year.


Pilots at Iberia Regional Air Nostrum, who had been striking every Monday and Friday since 27 February, went on a daily indefinite strike from 6 June amid a pay dispute. As of 14 July, Iberia said on its website some flight routes could be affected.


Strikes At Britain's Gatwick Airport Could Hit Summer Holidays

The above news followed news that workers at Britain's number two airport, Gatwick, will strike for eight days at the end of July and in early August, potentially causing cancellations and travel misery for thousands of passengers at the busiest time of year for summer holidays.

European travellers are already on high alert over worries about air traffic control problems arising from both the reduced air space available due to the Ukraine war, plus staffing issues and industrial action at some locations.

The Unite trade union said around 950 Gatwick workers, including ground staff, baggage handlers and check-in agents, would walk out in a pay dispute for four days from 28 July-1 August and then another four days from 4-8 August.

"Given the scale of the industrial action, disruption, delays and cancellations are inevitable across the airport," Unite said in its statement.

Gatwick, about 30 miles (48 kilometres) south of London, said it would support airlines with their contingency plans to ensure as many flights as possible operate as scheduled.


The contracts concerned in the dispute were between airlines and third party contractors including Menzies Aviation and DHL Services, the airport said.

Key Hub

A key hub for leisure flights to southern European beach destinations, Gatwick's biggest airlines include easyJet, TUI and British Airways.

EasyJet said further talks between its ground handler DHL and Unite were taking place next week.

"We urge them to reach an agreement as soon as possible," the airline said.

Concerns over air traffic control delays already prompted easyJet to axe 2% of its summer flight schedule, mostly from Gatwick, on Monday 10 July.

Any disruption this summer will come on the back of a chaotic peak season in Europe last year when thousands of flights were cancelled due to a shortage of staff.

Airlines faced a huge compensation bill as a result, and have spent millions this year ensuring there is slack in the system to try to mitigate the risk of problems.

On the strike-affected days, 4,410 flights are due to depart from Gatwick, equating to over 840,000 potential passengers, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.

British Airways and TUI have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Gatwick was singled out by the head of airlines trade group IATA earlier this week as having local resource issues in its air traffic control function, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Britain's busiest hub, Heathrow Airport, agreed a pay deal with security workers in June, avoiding multiple days of walk-outs throughout the summer which had been planned by Unite.

Read More: EasyJet Cancels 350 Portugal Flights Ahead Of Strike

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.