Threatened strikes at Ireland’s three main airports and national airline, Aer Lingus, could cause travel chaos in Ireland just before the St. Patrick’s Day national holiday. Americans flying in for the big weekedn could be badly effected.

Members of Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), at Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports and at Aer Lingus, have voted for industrial action over a $1.07 billion (€780 million) hole in their pension fund, the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme.

On Thursday (Feb 20) senior union sources told the Irish Times that members have proceeded to form industrial action committees and strike notice could be served next week. This industrial action could follow on March 13, the day before Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival begins.

This strike action could shut down Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports on a week when a total of 240,000 visitors are expected to fly to Ireland.

The Dublin Airport Authority, the state-owned group responsible for Dublin and Cork airports, described the threatened strike action as “unhelpful.”

On Monday they invited SIPTU to meet to discuss the trustees’ proposals and to “seek a fair and balanced resolution” to the pension issue.

The proposed strike action by SIPTU members comes after trustees of the joint Aer Lingus/Dublin Airport Authority pension scheme warned that if a draft funding proposal to restructure it is not approved, members could face even bigger reductions in benefits.

They intend to cut benefits for pensioners, as well as current and former employees who have not yet retired.

The proposed resolution also involves transferring existing members to a new defined contribution plan into which Aer Lingus will put €140 million and DAA €50 million. This was recommended by the Labour Court in May 2013.

Aer Lingus also said it was willing to make the lump sum payment.

The trustees must first formalize their funding proposal and get the Pensions Board to approve it.

Dermot O’Loughlin, head of SIPTU’s pensions advisory committee, said on Wednesday that the union’s members have a number of concerns not addressed in the statement.

He said the Labour Court recommendations are based on the scheme’s position at the end of 2012, and pointed out that the trustees’ proposals are due to be implemented on December 31 of this year.

“That has added two more years of accrued benefits,” he said.