Ryanair management and the pilots' union Fórsa will meet today in a last ditch bid to avert tomorrow's 24-hour strike affecting up to 6,000 passengers. Even if the strike is averted and there is little or no disruption this time, there is still a strong threat of industrial action at Ryanair across its network this summer.
The chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) Pat Dawson says strikes like tomorrow's Ryanair action are "very, very disruptive" for travel agents. "The lesser of two evils happened yesterday where 30 flights in and out of the UK were cancelled. We were waiting for European flights to be cancelled, but thankfully that didn't happen, because of the amount of hassle that causes consumers," Mr Dawson said.
Pat Dawson said the "uncertainty now going forward is something that's on our minds and hopefully the talks will be positive tomorrow but I think the strike is going to go ahead anyway, because it's the first fight the pilots have had with Ryanair really."
The ITAA head said the uncertainty is likely to affect travel agent bookings not just now, but also in the coming months. "With travel if there is uncertainty people will not go," he stated. He said Ryanair will also be mindful of its own forward bookings, which airlines depend upon. "If this is threatening and it's not cleared up very quickly, bookings will dry up, there is no doubt about that."
But in a new departure, Mr Dawson said Ryanair has been in close contact with travel agents in relation to the potential dispute. "For the first time ever I received a phone call from Ryanair to speak to them last week and I got on a conference call and spoke to them yesterday again. That's good news because travel agents around the country give them millions of euro worth of business. We play a small part in a big machine," he added.
The Irish Travel Agents Association head also said passengers booking with travel agents as opposed to directly with airlines are better protected. "The package travel directive is a big EU law, which was to be enacted in Ireland on 1 July, but the Government have not done that, but certainly that's going to bring more protection where people on the ground are looked after. With the travel agent, when problems arise, we're there to dig you out of the problem," he said.
Holidaymakers, and travel agents, are being hit on all fronts this summer, not just from the sky. Irish Ferries announced this week its Ulysses vessel will be out of action for longer than anticipated, while the company is still waiting for its newest vessel, the WB Yeats to enter service. Mr Dawson said the Irish Ferries issue are problems that will hopefully be resolved in the next couple of weeks.
He added the recent very warm weather in Ireland is affecting tour operator bookings, with many holidaymakers choosing to stay at home. He said this is leading to some good offers at the moment for people wishing to travel abroad and is "a positive for the consumer".
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