After weeks of uncertainty due to volcanic activity, Icelandic aviation is being hit by a further problem: industrial action by air traffic controllers this Christmas, with the timing of strikes said to be targeted to maximise disruption for the country’s flag carrier Icelandair.
Third round of strikes in five years
Air traffic controllers in Iceland, as elsewhere around Europe, are demanding better pay. They are now in their third round of strikes in five years amid ongoing contractual talks between the Icelandic Air Traffic Controller Association and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, representing Iceland’s main airport and navigation operator, Isavia.
Strategic timing for targeted disruption?
The strikes, at Keflavik International Airport (KEF) and Reykjavík Airport (RKV), on Monday 11 December and Wednesday 13 December are reported to have affected 13,000 passengers.
With emotions running high in the festive period, Icelandair accused the strikers of timing their six-hour withdrawal of labour — from 4 AM to 10 AM local Icelandic time each day – to coincide with key arrival and departure times for Icelandair flights from North America and to Europe, leaving other airlines less impacted.
Up to 23,000 further passengers could be affected if strikes planned for the week before Christmas, on Monday 18 December and Wednesday 20 December, go ahead. The disruption, during what is a busy holiday travel period, will be acutely felt in the island nation, despite efforts to minimise it.
“Saving Christmas for passengers”
Another affected airline, budget carrier PLAY airlines, also complained that the industrial action comes at a particularly bad time but sought to reassure flyers that the group had managed to shift their network’s connection bank away from the announced strike days, securing adjusted airport slots, modifying handling agent times, and changing crew schedules in order “to save Christmas for our passengers”, according to Birgir Jónsson, CEO of PLAY airlines.
“There will be some delays, but the network and connections will function, and our passengers will get to their destinations in time for the holiday. We want to ensure that the financial blow to PLAY is as small as possible, but more importantly, we strive to save Christmas for our passengers,” Jónsson said.
Millions in losses could lead to compensation
Icelandair meanwhile has estimated financial losses to the airline of between $5 million and $7 million if negotiations do not reach an agreement. The company has said it intends to seek full compensation from Isavia for these and associated costs.