Skip to main content
Normal View

Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate -
Wednesday, 13 Jul 2022

Business of Joint Committee

The joint committee met in private session until 1.47 p.m.

I propose we go into public session. Is that agreed? Agreed. Before we deal with the item on the agenda, we just want to deal with the issue of aviation. We issued an invitation to Ms Lynne Embleton, the CEO of Aer Lingus, to appear before us next week. Despite the repeated requests we have made, representatives from the airline have refused to appear before us. We find that unacceptable. We will be issuing a press statement to this effect and we will reissue the invitation to its representatives today. We are receiving countless queries and complaints from passengers. Aer Lingus is a huge airline and we will expect representatives of the company to come in before us next Wednesday.

The least the company can do is to explain the current position to its customers and to the public. Our role as a committee concerned with transport, and as representatives elected by the people, is to assist in getting public information out. We wish to do a collective body of work in this regard next week. Aer Lingus is an integral part of that undertaking and the invitation I referred to will be going out to the company. We look forward to Ms Embleton appearing before us next Wednesday.

Senator Buttimer also made a proposal regarding Aer Lingus during the week. In the context of national aviation policy, we will be undertaking work on this at the start of the next parliamentary year. We have called for the review of the national aviation policy to get under way immediately. Our colleague, Deputy Carey, has also put a proposal before us to the effect that we would seek to commence work in this regard immediately in September. We have scheduled that in the work programme. I look forward to doing that. I call Senator Buttimer.

I endorse Deputy Carey's proposal regarding the future of our aviation sector and industry. This committee has worked collectively to support this sector during Covid-19. Given the difficulties and issues facing the sector now, it is important that the future of our national aviation policy is reflected upon and changed.

I voice my disappointment and annoyance at the decision of representatives of Aer Lingus not to come before us next week. It is incredible in the context of an airline that was responsible last week alone for the cancellation of approximately 100 flights from Dublin Airport.

The vast majority - 70% - of the cancelled flights from Dublin Airport were Aer Lingus flights. It is unacceptable that we are held in such contempt by the airline, given the substantial payment provided to it during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I received an email at 8.12 a.m. and the heading on it is "Another wonderful move by Aer Lingus". I want to read it into the record, although I will not name the sender. It states:

Yesterday July 12th, Flight EI 107 from DUBlin to JFK New York was cancelled.

We sat on the runway for nearly 3 hours and then were summarily told to get off, find our own accommodation and wait for an email from Aer Lingus for further information.

Getting off the plane we were met with a skeleton crew who had no concrete or usable information.

As I booked my flight through Expedia.. I contacted them for updates.

It’s now 8.04am on Wednesday morning. Aer Lingus still has not updated their systems with Expedia to reflect the cancellation.

Incompetence, arrogance and lack of concern for their passengers has been one reason I never fly Aer Lingus. I now add criminally understaffed.

They’ve had 2 years plus to boost and train staffing as they know that Covid is going to be a recurring issue. This should not be a huge surprise to them.

I made the mistake of giving them another chance. That will never happen again.

And while they’re at it… they might get someone to clean the bathrooms. And pick up the rubbish. [That is a different matter]

Yours, from the Travelodge in Swords ...

This is one example given by a person I have never spoken to earlier this morning. The attitude of the airline is unacceptable. The behaviour of management towards us and, more importantly, the travelling public is completely unacceptable. We have an obligation on behalf of the travelling public to hold Aer Lingus to account. The airline is responsible for a huge proportion of the transatlantic flights coming into and going out of Ireland. In that context, it is important that we hold it to account. The August bank holiday weekend is coming up. It is probably going to be the second-busiest weekend of the summer. In terms of the number of passengers who have been discommoded or left unable to travel, what Aer Lingus has done is worse than the meltdown we saw with the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, in the third week of May. What is equally bad is the reputational damage done to our country in terms of how tourists and people coming here see, regardless of whether it is their first or last experience of Ireland, what is happening. It is not good enough. I ask the Chair to have the secretariat invite representatives of Aer Lingus to come before the committee to appear before us next week, the week after or at some point prior to the summer recess. It is not good enough to say that they will come before us in the autumn or at some later date. I want them to come in before the August bank holiday weekend.

I would expect them to come in next week. The weeks are drifting by. The last week in July is too near the August bank holiday weekend. We will be putting firm incentives there for them to come before the committee next week.

I am utterly frustrated that Aer Lingus is refusing this invitation. Its representatives have to come before the committee. It is their moral duty to do so. We have had a robust yet constructive relationship with the aviation industry in the lifetime of this committee. If we cast our minds back a few weeks, the DAA came in. We had a robust meeting but at least its representatives came in and laid it all out. Aer Lingus is still our national carrier in people's minds; the shamrock is still on the tail fin and people view it that way. Aer Lingus has to understand that. It is not viewed as being like any other airline. It is answerable to the people and needs to come in. What is happening at the moment is absolutely unacceptable. The members of the committee need answers.

I support the proposal put forward by Senator Buttimer. I commend him on raising this issue. The email he read out encapsulates the issue. What is happening is totally unacceptable. Aer Lingus is in receipt of State funding. It has been supported throughout Covid-19. It is in receipt of funding directly from the State to reinstate routes as opposed to discontinuing them. It is incumbent on Aer Lingus to come before this committee very soon to answer questions from members and, more importantly, from the public. Members of the public deserve answers.

I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee for supporting my proposal to do some work in respect of the national aviation policy. This is critical. We visited Shannon and Cork airports and we understand the need for a balanced aviation policy. We have seen the chaos in Dublin Airport in recent times. There is no reason why we should not sweat the assets in, for example, Shannon Airport for the benefit of Dublin and the entire country. We should do the work to which I refer in the autumn in parallel with the work that is going to be done by the Department. We can, in turn, feed our report into that work. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has confirmed that the Department's work will begin in the autumn. We need to get stakeholders, interested parties and policymakers to come before the committee in order that we can make a lasting impact on national aviation policy. That is critical for our island. Again, I thank members for their support in taking up this proposal.

I support the proposal------

Is the Senator aware there is a vote in the Seanad?

I am aware. When the bells stop, I will be running. I want to come in on this matter because I will miss out on my time otherwise.

On aviation policy, Aer Lingus is the second largest carrier into Dublin Airport and is a significant carrier into Cork and Shannon airports as well. The committee has visited Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports. We had concerns, particularly in Cork Airport, about where Aer Lingus is going. As we head into the busy August bank holiday weekend, we need to talk to Aer Lingus about the travelling public's experiences as a matter of urgency. We need to talk to the airline about where it is going and what its challenges are. All of the island needs Aer Lingus. It is not a State-owned carrier, but it is certainly a flag carrier. The Irish travelling public are very much used to flying with it and with Ryanair. It is extremely important that we bring Aer Lingus in to discuss what is happening with cancellations, baggage handling and all of its services, particularly as we head into the busiest time of the year for aviation. Aer Lingus has declined our invitation and said it is not available next week. We need to write back to the company and ask it to have its chief executive and corporate team come before the committee as a matter of urgency. This is the national Parliament's transport committee. It is disrespectful that Aer Lingus would not be able to accommodate us for a couple of hours next week to discuss what is happening and to give the travelling public information and, possibly, some comfort as to how it is dealing with the challenges it is facing.

It is absolutely disgraceful that Aer Lingus is dodging its responsibility. We have all heard the stories. We have all been in contact with people who have had flights cancelled at the last minute. We have heard some of the reasons for this in the public domain, but we need to interrogate the matter further and discover how long we are going to be dealing with these sort of circumstances. At this stage, people are trying to buy tickets on other airlines in order to avoid, at all costs, being stuck on Aer Lingus flights. This is going to have serious impact on Aer Lingus.

We need to have a discussion on the wider issue of aviation. We are an island. Connectivity is an absolute necessity. We know the problems happening across Europe and the wider world. We have the particular issue at Heathrow Airport that is going to have an impact on us. I refer to a cap of up to 100,000 passengers per day. We do not even know what the full ramifications of that are going to be.

What is happening is not good enough. We need to be very strong in relation to this matter. I was due to take a flight but it was cancelled. The flight was rearranged and would have left Dublin Airport on a date subsequent to that on which my return flight was due to take place. That is utterly ridiculous. It was grand for me because I was on Oireachtas business. I only had a backpack with me and I was willing and able to go where I needed to as quickly as possible. There was a bit of pain involved, and I had to take a couple more flights and make a train journey.

We can see the pressure this is going to put on families and, in particular, businesses. It could have a major impact. What is happening is just not good enough.

I am sorry to be repeating myself, but it is a disgrace. Aer Lingus needs to be in front of us in order that we can get answers. That is what people demand.

I echo those points. It is disappointing, disgraceful or whatever word you want to use. This was a proud Irish company that received significant State support during the pandemic. This committee worked with it and with the aviation industry. It is entirely necessary at this time that it come before the committee, listen to questions and explain to the wider public what is happening and what they can expect in the time ahead. We worked very closely with Aer Lingus during the pandemic on the concerns of workers at the time. This cross-party committee played a very constructive role. At this time, when passengers are being failed in so many ways through cancelled flights, short notice, baggage being lost and everything else that goes with it, and the huge frustration they are feeling, it is unacceptable that Aer Lingus would refuse this opportunity. It is important that the committee be strong on this. There is a good opportunity here for Aer Lingus to come before us and use this as a platform to outline the current state of affairs.

Would it be possible to demand a date as quickly as possible? I accept the difficulties that can create-----

We are looking for a meeting next Wednesday. We have a slot. There is no reason Aer Lingus could not come before us. We want Lynne Embleton, the CEO, to come before us. It is reported that Aer Lingus representatives are meeting with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. If they are meeting with him, they should be meeting with the line committee. We have credibility in our interactions with the aviation industry to date. We have always interacted in a constructive way. As Deputy O'Rourke said, Aer Lingus should be using this as an opportunity to explain to the public precisely what the position is. If there are genuine reasons for what is happening, that is fine, but it cannot run away from the issue. We will be issuing a statement to that effect and we will be following up with Aer Lingus. I will follow up with it personally. We expect its representatives to come before us next week to do a body of work around aviation. The number of flights Aer Lingus has cancelled and the burden that has put on consumers, many of whom we represent, is not tolerable. We look forward to Ms Embleton and her corporate team coming before us next week.

Sitting suspended at 2.03 p.m. and resumed at 2.05 p.m.