Ryanair Holdings Plc faces disruption to U.K. flights ahead of the year’s busiest travel weekend after failing in its legal bid to prevent a strike by pilots in its biggest market.
Judge Christina Lambert refused to block the walkout, dismissing a request for a last-minute injunction against the action Wednesday. The two-day walkout is set to start at midnight local time, threatening services at London Stansted, the discount carrier’s largest hub.
The verdict adds to pressure on Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary as he grapples with labor disputes across Europe at the height of the summer travel season. Ryanair, Europe’s biggest low-cost airline, is slated to carry 259,000 people on more than 1,700 U.K. flights over the 48 hours, according to data provider Cirium. Annual travel peaks on Friday as Brits get away for the long weekend that goes through Monday, the last bank holiday of summer.
A strike by U.K. cockpit crews could have a greater impact than any action Ryanair has faced since being forced to recognize unions less than two years ago, Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Daniel Roeska said earlier.
Still, Ryanair said in a Twitter post it expects to operate its full schedule — while not ruling out some delays or flight changes. The Dublin-based company has said that the British Airline Pilots’ Association, which called the strike, represents a minority of its pilots.
Balpa said in a statement after the ruling that Ryanair could still avoid a strike by agreeing to constructive negotiations. The union plans a further two-day walkout in September.
“Ryanair was foolish to bring this into the High Court rather than the negotiating room,” General Secretary Brian Strutton said. “However, we are clear that we want to settle the dispute.”
The English court’s decision contrasted with an earlier ruling in Ryanair’s home market of Ireland, which barred pilots there from walking out.
CEO O’Leary upped the ante in the labor clashes last month when he told pilots and flight attendants that hundreds of jobs must go and bases close to cope with a possible no-deal Brexit and slower growth after the grounding of Boeing Co.’s 737 Max jet.
Cabin crew at all 13 of Ryanair’s Spanish bases have threatened to strike next month over plans to close three locations unless an agreement is reached with unions. Staff in Portugal are in the midst of a five-day action over holiday allowances and dues.
Ryanair shares closed down 1.1% on Wednesday before the U.K. court decision. The company’s U.S. depositary receipts were off 0.6% at 12:42 p.m. in New York.
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