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Ryanair cabin crew strike grounds flights across Europe

Some 300 flights cancelled in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy on Wednesday; a further 300 axed on Thursday

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The cancellations have affected some 100,000 passengers who have either been put on alternative flights, or applied for full refunds.

Madrid

RYANAIR on Wednesday pressed ahead with its cancellation of some 300 flights across Europe as its cabin crew began a two-day strike in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy.

The Irish low-cost airline last week said that the stoppage called by five unions over pay and working conditions would also force it to cancel a further 300 flights on Thursday.

The airline said that the cancellations have affected some 100,000 passengers who have either been put on alternative flights, or applied for full refunds.

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Ryanair, Europe's largest low-cost carrier, said that it would operate over 2,100 flights on Wednesday "taking over 400,000 customers to their holiday destinations".

While the strikes are having a major impact across several European nations, Spain is the most affected country. In Madrid airport, Ryanair employees handed out flyers to passengers with contact information for customer service, so that they could request a refund if their flight had been cancelled.

A spokeswoman for the USO union said that inspectors from the labour ministry had turned up at Ryanair's base in the holiday island of Lanzarote.

Founded 33 years ago in Dublin, Ryanair boasts lower costs per passenger than its competitors.

But employees have long slammed their working conditions, and the airline has been hit by several strikes this year.

Unions want the airline to give contractors the same work conditions as its own employees, and are calling for improved sick pay and a "fair living wage". They are also asking that Ryanair staff be employed according to the national legislation of the country that they work in, rather than that of Ireland as is currently the case.

Ryanair argues that since its planes fly under the Irish flag and most of its employees work on board planes, its staff are covered by Irish law. The company defends the overall package offered to staff, saying that they could earn up to 40,000 euros (S$63,723) per year.

The strike by cabin crew comes after Ryanair was hit on Tuesday with a third day of strikes by its pilots in Ireland over pay and other conditions, resulting in the cancellation of 16 flights affecting 2,500 passengers.

On Wednesday, Ryanair also warned of more than 300 potential job cuts under plans to slash its Dublin-based aircraft fleet, and partly blamed recent pilots' strikes.

Ryanair said in a statement that it has issued 90 days' notice to more than 100 pilots and over 200 cabin crew, under plans to slash its Dublin fleet from 30 to around 24 aircraft for this winter.

The carrier said that there had been "a downturn in forward bookings and airfares in Ireland partly as a result of recent rolling strikes by Irish pilots".

The industrial action "has had a negative effect on high-fare bookings and forward air fares as consumer confidence in the reliability of our Irish flight schedules has been disturbed", it said.

The overhaul was also partly driven by the "rapid growth" of Ryanair Sun, which is its profitable Polish charter airline.

Ryanair Sun will now offer over 10 aircraft to Polish tour operators. That is double the five planes that it offered for the summer 2018 season.

The group will begin redundancy consultations with affected staff, and will offer transfers to Poland to minimise redundancies.

"We regret these base aircraft reductions at Dublin for winter 2018, but the board has decided to allocate more aircraft to those markets where we are enjoying strong growth (such as Poland)," said chief operating officer Peter Bellew.

"This will result in some aircraft reductions and job cuts in country markets where business has weakened, or forward bookings are being damaged by rolling strikes by Irish pilots." He added: "If our reputation for reliability or forward bookings is affected, then base and potential job cuts such as these at Dublin are a deeply regretted consequence".

On Monday, Ryanair revealed that first-quarter profit dropped more than a fifth on higher fuel costs and pilots' salaries.

Profit after tax slid 22 per cent to 309.2 million euros in the three months to the end of June compared with a year earlier. AFP