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For Aer Lingus, best laid plans lost in Covid fog

Aer Lingus is moving towards laying off hundreds of employees. RollingNews.ie photo.


By Ray O’Hanlon

At precisely 11.22 East Coast time this morning, Friday, May 1, a check on the Flightradar24 website showed an aircraft symbol over the mid-Atlantic with the call sign EIN 105.

That was EI 105, an iconic marriage of letters and numbers over the years for countless travelers between Dublin and New York, New York and Dublin.

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So at first glance all seemed well, reassuringly normal.

Only of course it wasn’t. EI 105 was flying with a lot more cargo than passengers.

Still, it was a comfort to see that it was flying at all.

It seems like an age ago, but really it was only the waning days of February.

Aer Lingus were holding a grand reception on the West side of Manhattan in a spacious converted loft space building overlooking the Hudson.

The gathering, as the invitation proclaimed, was to be held after “the biggest year ever for US travel.”

It stated: “Aer Lingus, the flag carrier airline of Ireland, is celebrating the final leg of their rebrand with an exclusive event in NYC. The occasion will bring together VIPs to learn more about the exciting upcoming offerings for 2020 and beyond in North America.”

The reception was set for February 26 and went ahead. It was well attended and those gathered listened to top Are Lingus executives outlining big plans for the future. There was a showing of the airline’s new crew uniforms.

There was not one mention of Coronavirus.

Nevertheless, the word wasn’t far from the thoughts of all in the room.

Still, it was natural to hope for the best even as nobody, on the surface at least, was seemingly preparing for the worst.

That preparation was actually gaining momentum, if only in the background.

Just over two months later, the worst is happening; indeed, it has been happening for weeks.

And the inevitable is now looming over the horizon.

RTE was reporting that Aer Lingus is to commence negotiations with unions representing staff at the airline about cuts of up to 900 jobs.

Stated the report: “It is understood that at a briefing this morning, union representatives were told that in order to cut costs across the board, the company is seeking to reduce its 4,500-strong workforce by up to 20%.

“The timing of the cuts will depend on the outcome of further consultation with unions over the next few weeks. So far it is not yet clear which jobs, routes or services will be targeted in the cutbacks.

“A month ago Aer Lingus halved the working hours and pay of staff because of the reductions in capacity and passenger travel due to the coronavirus.

"It warned back then that if the operating schedule reduced further, or if full grounding of operations was required, there would be a necessity for further measures. It is understood that the job cuts being sought by Aer Lingus will be via a voluntary redundancy scheme.

“Aer Lingus would not comment on the situation, saying only that it is continuing to communicate directly with its employees and engage with their representative bodies.

“Its parent company, International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG), which also owns British Airways, along with Spain's Iberia and the low cost Vueling carrier, said on Tuesday that its operations lost €535m in the first three months of the year.”

Aer Lingus, like its sister carriers in IAG, like airlines around the world, is being stalled by an invisible bug.

This, to say the least, stretches credulity, blows the imagination.

Stalled, but not completely so.

At 11.43 a.m. East Coast time, EI 105 was plainly visible on Flightradar24, only now more than two hundred miles farther west on its flight across the wide Atlantic.

It was a comforting blip in a time of much cold comfort.