More than 76,000 passengers affected, nearly fifty suspended flights in four days and an institutional coup are the most visible consequences of caos that affects Vueling since last weekend. The model ‘low cost’ airline seems to have reached its limit and its leaders now face the challenge of redefining left alone while the largest crisis that the company has faced so far.
The chaos began to become evident last Thursday, when the cancellations, delays and outrage from travelers began. However, it was not until the weekend when the situation boiled over. Saturday twenty flights were suspended and near 3,000 people were directly affected. The situation repeated on Sunday and Monday only seemed to improve on previous days, as the number of canceled flights was reduced to five, four of them with origin or destination to Barcelona.
The strike scheduled for today in France to protest against labor reform has affected some of the routes that the company had expected. Vueling yesterday announced the cancellation of 40 flights scheduled for this day [see here the list of flights affected], but so far this figure has risen to 64, as confirmed by the company, they are “working to try to normalize the situation. “
What reasons have led the company up here? This is one of the unknowns and the key to understand the overflow of the airline. In the background, an idea of overexploitation. Many voices agree that the company has grown in recent years at the expense of overstretched human and technical resources to continue increasing their routes. The situation could have exploded months ago, in response to complaints from workers and managers of the company.
The head of the union section of Crew Union of Flight Attendants Airline (Stavla) on Vueling, Guadalupe Romero said yesterday that they had warned that “the summer would be complex and that it was necessary to hold more the basis of the company to tolerate a growth that has finished wrapping it all. “
Romero reiterated that there is no covert strike by workers and assured that employees are “exhausted” and the point of exhaustion to try to restore normalcy in the operation.
Juan Valdes, chairman of Vueling, had an impact on this idea explaining that “the planes are flying 24 hours a day and crews are within legal limits. When a part fails, a domino effect occurs and fall following, “he said.
The piece referred to Valdes came in the form of strike in France on June 28.
Vueling explained that the strikes at the neighbour country caused a “snowball” of delays and cancellations that the company failed to assess and manage time.
The strike forced the cancellation of 56 flights that traveled 8,000 people. The airline was unable to relocate and those travelers while maintaining their usual operations, also coinciding with the start of the summer holidays and the increase in activity typical of these dates.
“We asked Vueling the number of flights offered last year and the same data this year, but they didn´t give it,” said the Minister of Territory of the Generalitat, Josep Rull, this morning in an interview on Cadena Ser. ” more reinforcements are needed to guarantee the success of all Vueling flights”
The company announced yesterday the hiring of six additional aircraft, 34 pilots and 130 employees to enhance customer service, in addition to the 600 crew, 400 pilots and 200 cabin crew that included operational planning for this summer.
Another factor that has contributed to aggravate delays is the system A-CDM that was implemented at El Prat a year ago.
This is an automated system installed in almost twenty European airports that assigns departure times of air traffic. The aim is to track waiting times as short as possible or even zero and reduce the impact of environmental activity level to the lowest. If the system does not optimize departure times, it affects punctuality, especially in times with peak flights.
Company sources have assured that the system “does not help, is part of the problem” and aggravates delays. “It is difficult to know the direct impact of their implementation, delays are noticeable, but we can´t quantify them because there are no reference before the system implementation” say the sources.
All airlines are affected by delays associated with their application, but in the case of Barcelona, Vueling is the most affected because 40% of the operations of El Prat is in the hands of the ‘low cost’.
Crisis economic costs and image and reputation are the most palpable consequences that this crisis will have on Vueling. There are no ratings yet about it, but distrust among potential customers is already a fact and penalties by government agencies, too.
The Ministry of Public Works yesterday demanded the company to present on Tuesday a contingency plan detailing the sources –crew and planes- they are going to improve for the summer months of July, August and September.
The department headed by Ana Pastor has also opened an information package to the airline and the minister herself said yesterday from Santander that shall act with “the strength of the law” because “violating the rights of passengers won´t be free for anyone.”
Also the Government is very aware of the steps of the company these days. Representatives of the Catalan Government met Monday afternoon with the direction of Vueling, whose base is located in Barcelona, and established a commission for monitoring the situation that will force the airline to appear weekly in front of the regional authorities.
The Catalan administration does not rule out imposing sanctions, but for now will focus its efforts on ensuring that the chaos of Vueling ends and collect as much information about what happened.
What travelers can do
In addition to getting angry and show their indignation, travelers affected by delays and cancellations Vueling may claim the rights they legally have as passengers. The only circumstances in which an airline has no legal obligation to provide any compensation is whether the cancellation of a flight has occurred due to reasons such as a volcanic eruption or extreme weather conditions.