Family 'devastated' as Disney trip pulled amid airline dispute

A father has spoken of his children's disappointment after their "holiday of a lifetime" to Disney World was cancelled due to the Aer Lingus pay dispute.

Aer Lingus has cancelled at least 220 flights amid planned industrial action by pilots.

The Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) has said that an indefinite work-to-rule will begin on Wednesday with an eight-hour strike planned for Saturday.

It follows the conclusion of separate meetings on Tuesday attended by IALPA and Aer Lingus management.

In a statement, Aer Lingus said it is disappointed that following the Labour Court's separate meetings with Aer Lingus and pilots’ unions today, "its assessment is that it is unable to assist in the dispute at this time".

"Aer Lingus will continue to focus on minimising the disruption caused to customers by IALPA’s industrial action," it said, and called on IALPA to "consider the damage that its continued industrial action is inflicting upon passengers, the company and the Irish economy."

The Labour Court said it will review the matter in July.

Andrew McKee, from Bangor, County Down, was among a party of nine due to set off on Wednesday to Orlando, Florida, but found out on Friday that the flights were cancelled.

"I have a five-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy and they were just devastated whenever I told them," Mr McKee said.

Rug 'swept up from under us'

Mr McKee's daughter, Lucy, cried when he told her the news.

"It’s something that you really build up to," he said.

"They had a little countdown that we were doing, saying we had so many sleeps until we were going away, and my son, he’s a little bit older, so he sort of understands it, but at the same time he’s still a child."

His youngest was particularly disappointed on missing out on the trip to Disneyland.

"Lucy was really excited to see Cinderella and Snow White and all the princesses.

"It's magical and all of a sudden the rug got swept up from under us."

Aer Lingus offered Mr McKee the option of changing his flights or applying for a refund, but "the problem is that’s just the flight element", said Mr McKee.

"There’s the park tickets, there’s the accommodation, there’s the car hire, you know everything else," he added.

The tails of three Aer Lingus planes
Aer Lingus and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association are to attend separate meetings in Dublin on Tuesday to discuss the pay dispute [Press Association]

Mr McKee, his wife, two children, mother and sister's family were supposed to fly out from Dublin.

Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin said the public were being ignored by both sides in the dispute.

"They've planned for these, they've saved for these - it's shocking that they're being ignored, and wilfully, if you like, put to one side in this battle between the management of Aer Lingus and unions," Mr Martin said.

The airline said it had issued a fresh invite to IALPA for direct talks but the union said it would not re-enter negotiations that came with preconditions around flexibility and productivity.

'It’s hard'

Mr McKee said he supports pilots taking strike action, despite his plight.

"I think the pilots have a very difficult job in that they deserve to get paid well... but at the same time, it’s hard."

"The only good thing is we had it booked as a package, so I guess we’ll be looked after by our travel agent."

Mr McKee and his family are now thinking about planning the holiday for next year instead.

'Level of uncertainty is really unfair'

Jennifer Cimerman from Dublin is on holiday in Malaga with her family and is due to fly home on Friday.

She received an email from Aer Lingus with an update to her scheduled flight listing available options, including a change in flight for no cost or a refund, but it did not say whether their flight was cancelled.

"It’s not fair on anybody who’s paid out good money to come away and book their family holiday, none of these holidays are cheap, and I think the level of uncertainty is really unfair," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme.

"I don’t think there’s going to be a huge public sympathy for pilots if we can’t resolve this before the crux of summer kicks in," Ms Cimerman said.

"They can take the hardline all they want but I think they will lose public sympathy very quickly if this doesn’t get resolved."

'Will continue until there's a resolution'

Leaving the meeting today, IALPA President Captain Mark Tighe said the organisation had updated the Labour Court on its position and that, after a lengthy conversation, the court will now consider what it learned today.

"The actions continue as have been notified and will continue until there's a resolution," Captain Tighe told Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

He added that, for the action to be called off, management would need to see the merits of their pay claim.

What do I do if my Aer Lingus flight is cancelled?

The airline has said passengers with flights booked between 26 June and 2 July have a number of options available.

Each should be contacted via email or SMS, or through their travel agent.

For customers who have booked directly with Aer Lingus, there is the option to change flights online. The company said it will waive the fare difference and any change fee if rebooking for a later date.

There is also the option to request a full refund or a refund voucher, which can be redeemed within five years.

Aer Lingus said passengers who booked through a travel agent or third party must contact those companies directly.

"Unfortunately, Aer Lingus is unable to assist directly in these cases," Aer Lingus outlines on its website.