This week just hasn’t been a good time to airborne in Argentina. After a telecoms failure left BA’s metropolitan Jorge Newbery Airport at a standstill on Thursday, a surprise strike Friday morning by airline pilots caused further disruption at both the domestic terminal and Ezeiza international airport.
The strike took place at the normal peak in air traffic – the rush hour of the skies, if you will – affecting dozens of flights from national airlines, including Aerolíneas Argentinas and Austral, and international airlines such as Colombia’s Avianca and Brazilian behemoth LatAm. The strike finally ended with the departure of Aerolíneas Argentinas flight 1834 at 11:03 AM, marking an end to the morning’s high jinks.
Argentina’s flagship airline was the most seriously affected by the action, cancelling at least 60 flights and leaving 7,000 passengers stranded, while LatAm got off relatively lightly with just two delayed flights. Clarín has reported that flights will return to normal over the course of the afternoon, but that not all stranded passengers will be allocated flights today due to either a lack of space or lower flight frequencies on certain routes, such as Aeroparque-Salta.
This morning’s strike action is the cherry on top of a stressful week for air travel. On Thursday, a fault in the telecommunications network at Jorge Newbery (also known as Aeroparque) left hundreds of passengers stranded for more than six hours. The error affected the management of flight plans and the arrival of various flights, some of which were diverted to Ezeiza. Then, this morning’s surprise strike action left many customers without alternative arrangements.
Informamos que nuestras operaciones se ven afectadas por una medida de fuerza impulsada por los gremios APLA y UALA. Lamentamos los inconvenientes que esta situación ajena a la compañía causa a nuestros pasajeros. Más información en https://t.co/GfQOCjyhDQ o 0810-222-86527 pic.twitter.com/Djohm0FnqM
— Aerolíneas Argentinas (@Aerolineas_AR) October 5, 2018
In a press release published at 8 AM this morning, Aerolíneas said that with their “deep regrets,” the protest organized by both the APLA and UALA pilot unions meant that they would have to cancel even more flights on top of the 52 cancelled yesterday and those cancelled due to the general strike next week. With an air of helplessness, the company stated, “the union complaint is not against the company itself, so Aerolíneas cannot respond to the trade unions’ demands.”
And what were these demands? Strike action was perhaps a surprising move, given that these are times of expansion for the aviation industry, with this year welcoming the first-ever Argentine budget airline, Flybondi, to the skies. However, the strike was linked to the public hearing taking place in the Metropolitan Design Center (CMD), where new routes will be granted to budget airlines by the Ministry of Transport and ANAC (the National Administration of Civil Aviation).
Ahora! Paro de Aerolíneas, Latam y Austral en aeroparque. Asamblea de pilotos por cuestiones de seguridad. A las 9 abrirían de nuevo los mostradores. pic.twitter.com/M0PfFfvp66
— Fernanda Arena ? (@ArenaFer) October 5, 2018
In a letter calling for demonstrations outside the CMD’s office, the unions criticized “Guillermo Dietrich’s misleading Airplane Revolution, which has decided to degrade the commercial air sector through the financing and sponsorship of the worst industry models, and coincidentally, these policies are what have plunged the sector into an unnecessary crisis with irreparable consequences.
“Under the pretext of increasing the number of passenger transported at any cost, foreign companies with non-unionized workers are encouraged to enter the country, creating a destructive price war following the liberalization of fares,” continued the text.
Tomás Insausti, ANAC’s director, voiced his displeasure with the strike action on Radio Mitre. “What is happening now is that, with a new public hearing aiming to establish more flights, routes and airline companies, some of the unions formed a kind of assembly to force the delay or cancellation of flights,” he said. “One would guess that its motive is either kirchnerista or from the opposition as it is nonsensical, given that aviation is Argentina is a good thing, with more companies, more jobs, more routes and more passengers.
Meanwhile, affected passengers took to Twitter to scream their disenchantment into the void:
Paro sorpresivo d pilotos d @Aerolineas_AR siempre en los momentos + inoportunos y sin aviso previo pa q usuarios sean maltratados y no puedan planear alternativas. Mi mas absoluto repudio a esta medida. Espero jueces les apliquen las mayores multas posibles a los Pilotos.
— Alex Aberg Cobo (@aabergcobo) October 5, 2018
“Surprise strike by @Aerolineas_AR pilots – always in the most inconvenient moments and without prior notice so that users are misterated and can’t plan alternatives. I thoroughly reject this measure. I hope that judges will fine pilots the maximum possible amount.”
Que linda que es mi Argentina, ayer salía para Chaco a las 8,30 y salí a las 17 horas x problemas técnicos, hoy vuelvo de Chaco a las 10,30 pero tengo vuelo a las 20 horas por paro sorpresivo de pilotos. Mi trabajo del viernes en Capital perdido, así no sumamos productividad
— Salvador Di Stefano (@SalvaDiStefano) October 5, 2018
“How wonderful is my Argentina. Yesterday I was going to leave for Chaco at 8.30 AM but left at 5 PM because of technical issues, today I’m supposed to fly back from Chaco at 10.30 AM but I have flight at 8 PM because of a surprise strike by pilots. All the work I was supposed to do in the capital has been lost, this is why we have no productivity.”
Los pilotos de avión hacen paro porque hay mas empresas haciendo vuelos y récord de vuelos internos, es decir, hacen paro porque hay mas trabajo para nuevos pilotos pero mas competencia para ellos. Que miedo a competir tenemos los argentinos.
— Octa (@OctavioDeshays) October 5, 2018
“Airline pilots have gone on strike because there are more companies and a record number of internal flights, or rather, they’ve gone on strike because there is more work for new pilots but more competition for them. We Argentines are so scared of competing.”
While some made the most of the situation:
Varado en Salta (paro de pilotos). Me vine a ver entrenamiento de los pumas….
De lo malo siempre sale algo bueno. pic.twitter.com/6rclNfNFpv
— El Mono ?? (@pablo71vigil) October 5, 2018
“Stranded in Salta (pilots’ strike). I came to watch the Pumas train. Every cloud has a silver lining.”
The pilots’ timing could not have been more problematic for an Argentina desperately trying to show the world that, despite the current financial crisis, business is continuing as usual. The W20 took place at the Centro Cultural Kirchner (CCK) this week, the B20 Summit wraps up today ahead of next month’s G20 Leaders’ Summit, and the 2018 Youth Olympics kicking off with its Opening Ceremony tomorrow. At a time when the eyes of the world are trained on Buenos Aires, the pilots’ unions decided to deliver a show.
This strike was a poor PR choice by the pilots’ unions. It has done nothing to endear their cause to the Argentine public, many of whom struggle to understand why these well-paid professionals are refusing to let new pilots in on their perks and are standing in the way of job creation at a time when it is sorely needed. And, despite their best efforts, the low-cost revolution is already definitively in motion. Is this perhaps a case of too much, too late?