A strike by staff at Ryanair and Brussels Airlines over pay and working conditions on Friday forced the cancellation of dozens of flights in Europe at the start of the peak summer travel season.
Ryanair cabin crew unions in Spain, Portugal and Belgium called a three-day strike starting on Friday, and in Italy and France on Saturday.
The biggest impact was felt in Belgium, where the work stoppage led Europe's biggest budget airline to cancel 127 flights to and from Charleroi airport near Brussels between Friday and Sunday.
Ryanair could only guarantee 30-40 percent of its scheduled flights at the airport, said a spokeswoman for Brussels South Charleroi Airport.
The situation in Belgium was further complicated by a three-day strike by staff at Brussels Airlines, a unit of Germany airline Lufthansa, which began on Thursday.
The company has cancelled 315 flights to and from Brussels' internatioanl airport during the three-day strike.
The impact of the Ryanair strike was more limited in Portugal, where only two flights we cancelled on Friday morning, according to the SNPVAC union behind the walkout in the country.
It expects the strike to gain force later in the day.
In Spain, where Ryanair employs 1,900 people, no flights we cancelled except those heading to Belgium.
Spain's transport ministry on Thursday ordered Ryanair to operate 73 percent to 82 percent of flights over the strike period to maintain minimum services.
It argued there needs to be a balance between the "right to strike" and the "interest of travellers".
But unions said Ryanair had gone beyond what was required and forced staff to maintain 100 percent of flights. Unions said they would take Ryanair to court as a result.
"The company informed staff that all flights were subject to the minimum service, and threated them with disciplinary action," Ernesto Iglesias of local USO told reporters at Madrid airport.
The airline was not "respecting the law," he added.
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has been dismissive of the strikes.
"We operate two and half thousand flights every day," he said earlier this month in Belgium.
"Most of those flights will continue to operate even if there is a strike in Spain by some Mickey Mouse union or if the Belgian cabin crew unions want to go on strike over here," he told journalists.
The strikes come as air travel has rebounded since Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.
But many airlines, which laid off staff during the pandemic, are having trouble rehiring enough workers, forcing them to cancel flights. That includes easyJet, which has been particularly hard hit by employee shortages.
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