Travel chaos as Alitalia strike cancels most flights

Rome, Feb 23 (IANS/AKI) Thousands of people faced travel disruption on Thursday after troubled Italian airline Alitalia announced it was cancelling 60 percent of its flights due to a one-day stoppage by unions.

Domestic and international flights were affected by the industrial action, Alitalia said in a statement.

“Alitalia apologises to its customers for the inevitable delays caused by this strike,” the company said.

The carrier sought to minimise inconvenience with mailed, texted and phoned warnings and said it had re-booked “as many of the passengers affected by cancellations as possible on the first available flights”.

Passengers whose flights were scrapped could choose whether to get a refund or change their tickets for free by March 10, Alitalia stated.

Pilots, cabin crew and ground staff all took part in the strike in protest against a major restructuring which is set to see Alitalia shed hundreds of jobs and slash salaries.

Despite restructurings in 2008 and in 2014 during which the airline shed 9,000 jobs, Alitalia made a 460 million euro loss in 2016 and faces a similar shortfall this year.

“The company is trying to make workers pay for the crisis created by its management,” Carmelo Barbagallo, the leader of Uil, one of Italy’s main trade unions, said on Thursday.

“A management that has changed over time but never succeeds in turning the business around – and that is unacceptable,” Barbagallo added.

Trade unions would not accept “unilateral acts” by the company, he warned.

“We are ready for talks but over an industrial plan that lays out prospects for Alitalia’s development,” he said.

Australian CEO Cramer Ball, former head of Indian ally Jet Airways, is due unveil a new strategic plan for Alitalia in early April featuring salary cuts and further job losses as well as greater focus on long haul flights.

Up to one-quarter of Alitalia’s current workforce could be laid off under the plan according to media reports.

Italian Transport Minister Graziano Delrio in February urged Alitalia to produce a clear strategic plan ahead of any discussion on redundancies.

Alitalia has continued to struggle despite a 1.8 billion euro rescue deal designed to return the airline to profitability this year under which Etihad Airways took a controlling 49 percent stake in 2014 and agreed to inject 560 million euros.