Taiwan’s largest airline has agreed to a Saturday meeting with its pilots’ union and transport officials after a strike forced the cancellation of 32 flights, including at least 12 to or from Hong Kong.
China Airlines scrapped five Hong Kong flights scheduled for Friday – three between the city and Taipei, and two between Hong Kong and Kaohsiung, according to the company’s website.
It also cancelled four Saturday flights between Hong Kong and Kaohsiung and three between Taipei and Hong Kong. Six have been delayed.
The airline’s branch of the Taoyuan Pilots Union launched industrial action at 6am on Friday. China Airlines reacted on its Facebook page at about 4pm with a statement saying it would respond to the union’s demands and meet representatives and government officials on Saturday afternoon.
Wang Kwo-tsai, Taiwan’s deputy minister for transport, said on Friday afternoon that the meeting would start at 3pm on Saturday – one day later than a prior suggestion by his boss Lin Chia-lung, who had floated a time of 4pm on Friday.
The union said: “The strike will go on until China Airlines agrees to meet our demands.”
It urged all pilots to join the action by handing in their licences, of which 200 had already been received, according to union director Chen Pei-pei. But that number accounted for fewer than one third of the 700 pilots joining the strike.
China Airlines has dismissed calls by pilots for extra manpower on long-haul flights to reduce fatigue – a stance the union said had left it with no choice but to take action.
Flights cancelled as China Airlines pilots strike, after Taiwanese firm’s chiefs fail to meet demands for more rest time
The pilots had requested three of them be deployed on flights lasting more than eight hours, and four for trips over 12 hours.
On Thursday the union said that as of 2pm, a China Airlines reply to the Taoyuan City Government’s Department of Labour, which has been involved in negotiations between the two parties, said “increasing manpower would raise human resources costs and seriously affect the competitiveness of the company”.
But the airline was “using so-called ‘company competitiveness’ as an excuse, and was totally neglecting air safety and overwork”, the union argued.
Other demands had included more transparency in the company’s promotion and training system for co-pilots, and no company pressure or threats being applied against union members.
The plans of thousands of travellers were thrown into turmoil on Friday.
At Hong Kong International Airport, a flier surnamed Yip said he needed to make a transfer in Taipei.
“If the two flights are cancelled, then I won’t know what to do,” he said.
A man surnamed Chen said his family of six were told by China Airlines staff that they should switch to a 2pm flight to Kaohsiung because it was unknown whether their 7.40pm flight would be affected.
“They will tell us by 1pm,” he said. “We will take the earlier flight if there are seats, but right now we have to wait.”
The family were wrapping up a four-day trip to Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year festive period. Chen said he did not blame the pilots for the timing of their strike.
“Everybody needs a holiday,” he said.
Another family, of five, were able to get seats on a 2pm flight to Taipei hours after their original flight was cancelled.
“Our relatives in Taiwan told us sometime past 7am this morning that there was a strike and our flight was cancelled,” said the mother, surnamed Lin. “We called the airline immediately and got transferred to an earlier flight.”
Her husband said it was “not so good” of the pilots to stage their industrial action during the festive period.
“We need to go home,” he said.
We will transfer our passengers to other airlines and invite other air companies to support our insufficiency in operations
Hsieh Shih-chien, China Airlines president
Both the union and the airline apologised for the inconvenience.
China Airlines said it had set up an urgent task force and would try its best to maintain operations with the available manpower. If there were not enough staff the company would merge flights or deploy alternative aircraft of different sizes, it added.
The firm also pledged to arrange flights for affected passengers according to need. No service charge would be imposed for those seeking refunds, it said.
China Airlines president Hsieh Shih-chien bowed as he made an apology.
“We will transfer our passengers to other airlines and invite other air companies to support our insufficiency in operations,” he said.
Cathay Pacific Airways said it was in close communication with China Airlines.
“We will endeavour to provide alternative flight arrangements to affected passengers when seats are available, in accordance with the established agreement between the two airlines,” Cathay said.
As of noon on Friday, nine tour groups from Hong Kong with about 200 travellers in total had been affected by the strike, according to the city’s Travel Industry Council.
Three groups were originally set to fly to Kaohsiung and three to return to Hong Kong from Taiwan on Friday. One group was due back from Taiwan on Saturday, with another two set to depart for Taipei the same day.
The groups bound for Kaohsiung will take flights to Taipei then travel to Kaohsiung by train. The three groups returning on Friday will take earlier flights back to Hong Kong. One of the two groups leaving for Taipei on Saturday was cancelled, and the one flying back on Saturday was being rescheduled, according to the council.
“Travel agencies are making plans with the airline operator with their best efforts to minimise the impact on tourists,” the council said. It urged travellers to pay attention to notifications from their agencies.
By 12.25pm on Friday, more than 30 affected passengers had been put on a standby list, the Post learned from the China Airlines counter at Hong Kong airport.
“Imagine there was a typhoon and it hit only China Airlines – this is the situation we are currently in,” a member of staff said.
“For flights coming in and flying out later today, we will have to wait for notifications from Taiwan, because if the pilots haven’t shown up three to four hours before departure, then we won’t have the flights.”
The Hong Kong Airport Authority said it would closely monitor the situation and called on passengers to check with the airline for updates.
On Friday evening four more flights between Hong Kong and Taipei were added for Saturday after China Airlines liaised with Hong Kong Airlines.
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