The grounding of services follows a decision by Aer Lingus pilots to stop work for forty-eight hours this coming Monday night.
The stoppage follows the decision by Aer Lingus to shift flights to London’s Heathrow from Shannon to Belfast, a move revealed last week by the airline’s chief executive, Dermot Mannion.
The action, however, is more directly linked to questions concerning future pay and conditions in Belfast for airline staff, not the airport route switch itself.
The knock on effect for trans-Atlantic services of the stoppage, meanwhile, will be a suspension of all Aer Lingus flights until Thursday, August 23.
By that day, the airline is hoping that planes will be flying westbound out of Ireland again with a hoped for resumption of eastbound flight the following day.
In the meantime, the prospect is for massive disruption of holiday and business plans for the airline’s customers, in excess of 7,000, who were booked for flights across the Atlantic during the third week of what is always a peak flying month.
“This is worse than inconvenient for the customers. It’s a kick in the gut,” Aer Lingus Executive Vice President for North America, Jack Foley, told the Echo.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Aer Lingus said that it had been notified by the pilots union of a strike action that would have an impact on all of the airline’s passengers.
“The 48-hour job action is scheduled to begin 12.01 a.m. on Tuesday, August 21 and last through Wednesday, August 22. As a result all flights will be canceled. Due to crew and aircraft positioning on the Atlantic, there will be further disruptions to transatlantic service from the United States on Thursday, august 23 and from Ireland on Friday, August 24,” the statement said.
Aer Lingus said it was apologizing to all customers affected by the strike action.
“We are actively contacting all 7,000 transatlantic passengers to change flight details free of charge or to facilitate a full refund. In addition, we are investigating alternative arrangements, including leasing in aircraft and re-booking other carriers. Our first priority is to ensure that all passengers return home safely and without further inconvenience,” the statement continued.
And in a clear indication of the uncertainty and potential volatility of the situation the statement added: “In the best interest of our customers, we recommend that Aer Lingus transatlantic travel be avoided Tuesday, August 21 through Saturday, August 25.”
The statement concluded by saying that passengers were “strongly urged” to call Aer Lingus directly at 1-800-474-7424 to change travel plans, or log onto aerlingus.com for the most up to date information.
“As we anticipate high call volume, we regret any long on-hold time as we try to accommodate each individual passenger, the airline said in its statement.
Meanwhile, while Aer Lingus is looking at the possibility of leasing aircraft during the stoppage itself, that would be a move fraught with the potential for further industrial conflict.
Most likely, the carrier will add leased planes at the end of next week after the pilots resume work and the airline works to return its transatlantic services to a normal schedule.
Jack Foley said that the decision to suspend services was better taken earlier rather than at the last possible minute.
“Obviously we deeply regret the inconvenience to our customers,” he said.