As a six-day strike by pilots for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), experts say the walk-out could cost the carrier more than €100 million in compensation to passengers for the cancellation of flights.
Members of the SAS Pilot Group, which represents 95 per cent of the airline’s pilots in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, began the strike on 26 April after failed negotiations over a pay rise. They were seeking a 13 per cent salary bump, as well as a change to scheduling rules that they said had an impact on their personal lives.
The group claimed SAS did not used fixed schedules for pilots, which allegedly saw some of them working seven days in a row. They said “not being able to plan your life is a big strain” and demanded better predictability for rosters.
The strike forced the airline to cancel hundreds of flights a day, affecting both domestic and international services.
Flight delay compensation specialist law firm Bott and Co estimates that more than 4,000 flights were grounded, with more than 400,000 passengers affected over the six-day strike. Under current EU Regulation 261/2004 rules, this means the carrier could be hit by a €100 million compensation bill.
Coby Benson, a flight delay compensation solicitor at the firm, said: “The staff pay disputes are well within the airline’s control and the management of disgruntled staff is simply part and parcel of running any business and would not be considered an extraordinary circumstance under EU Regulation 261/2004. In light of this, affected passengers may be entitled to claim compensation of up to €600 each, where their flights were cancelled with less than 14 days’ notice or delayed for over three hours.”
However, official verdicts on whether EU 261 rules apply to staff strikes have seemed contradictory. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that “wildcat” strikes – walkouts staged in the form of staff calling out sick en masse – could not be considered extraordinary circumstances and therefore airlines had to pay compensation in these situations.
But both the Commercial Court of Barcelona and the Swords District Court in Dublin ruled that Ryanair should not have to compensate passengers for flights cancelled by strikes across Europe last summer. The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched ‘enforcement action’ against the carrier in December, saying it should have paid out compensation to passengers affected by the walk-outs.
While SAS rebooked passengers where possible and offered to reimburse the difference if customers had to book on another airline or a different mode of transport, Bott and Co says passengers should be able to file a compensation claim.