Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 September 2020

Ongoing SAS pilot strike strands hundreds of thousands of passengers

Two more days of disruption ahead after flyers went out on strike on Friday, grounding around 70% of the airline's flights

Travellers stuck at Gardamoen Airport in Oslo, Norway. Pilots at SAS have walked off the job. AFP
Travellers stuck at Gardamoen Airport in Oslo, Norway. Pilots at SAS have walked off the job. AFP

Scandinavian airline SAS cancelled more than 1,200 flights scheduled for Monday and Tuesday as a pilot strike that has disrupted the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of passengers entered its third day on Sunday.

SAS pilots went on strike on Friday as wage talks broke down, grounding around 70 per cent of the airline's flights and affecting about 280,000 passengers including the latest cancellations.

"We deeply regret that our customers are affected by the ongoing pilot strike when SAS now cancels flights on Monday and Tuesday," the airline said.

"The strike will affect an additional 61,000 passengers on Monday when 667 flights are cancelled across Scandinavia. On Tuesday 49,000 passengers and 546 departures will be affected."

The deadlock in the dispute showed no sign of resolution on Sunday with both SAS, Swedish and Danish pilots unions and Norway's employers association NHO saying no renewed contacts between the parties had been initiated.

The airline created after the Second World War, which remains part-owned by the Swedish and Danish governments, has said it was prepared to return to negotiations but warned that agreeing to pilots' demands would seriously damage the company.

The airline industry's employer body in Sweden has said pilots sought a 13 per cent wage hike despite what it called already high average wages of $9,777 a month, demands it labelled as "extreme".

The SAS Pilot Group, a union body representing 95 per cent of the airline's pilots in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, has said the dispute concerns more than wages, pointing to demands for more predictable working hours.

"Many SAS pilots have no control over when and how long they have to work. In a worst case scenario, they risk having to work seven weekends in a row," the pilots' association said.

"Everyone who has a family life can imagine how difficult it is to not know when you have to work," said SAS' Swedish union representative at the pilots' association, Wilhelm Tersmeden.

SAS contacted most passengers before the cancellations to warn them of the strike and offered to rebook them at no extra cost, according to AFP.

Having flirted with bankruptcy in 2012, SAS has run a net profit in each of the last four years. But rising fuel costs, volatile currencies and overcapacity among European airlines has put pressure on airlines, including SAS.

Sydbank analysts have estimated the strike costs the airline 60 million Swedish kroner (Dh23.1m) to 80m kroner per day, a rate which would wipe out the expected net profit this year in just two weeks.

"The strike could have been avoided, if SAS had shown a real willingness to meet us halfway," Rene Arpe, chairman of the Danish pilot union, said on Friday.

"Instead, we see a SAS management that thinks their employees must accept worse working conditions, unpredictable working hours and insecurity about their jobs," Mr Arpe said.

The strike at SAS does not affect flights operated by its partners, which make up about 30 per cent of all departures.

Updated: April 28, 2019 04:14 PM

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