British Airways pilots begin two-day strike
Last-minute intervention from Downing Street fails to end dispute over pay and conditions which will see majority of planes grounded
British Airways pilots began a two-day strike at midnight over pay and conditions, in a row that will affect hundreds of thousands of passengers and shows no sign of being resolved.
Roughly 50 flights on Sunday, mostly coming into the UK, were grounded ahead of the walk-out, with all but a few flights cancelled on Monday and Tuesday as passengers were told to stay away from airports.
The cancellation of up to 1,7000 flights is expected to affect 280,000 customers with extra disruption outside the official strike days expected to affect thousands more.
The row with pilots has been described by the Financial Times as “the gravest industrial action in the airline’s history” and by The Times as “the most acrimonious pay disputes that BA has ever seen”.
Despite earning on average about £90,000, rising to £167,000 for captains, BA pilots have previously rejected a pay increase worth 11.5% over three years, which was proposed by the airline in July. The pilots’ union Balpa argues its members have taken lower pay rises and made sacrifices to help British Airways overcome its financial difficulties and want a reward after the company made a pre-tax profit of £2 billion in 2018.
The dispute, which has been rumbling on all year, escalated on Friday when BA threatened to strip strikers and their families of perks, such as heavily subsidised travel, for three years.
Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, said on Sunday that the union would challenge the measure in the courts, adding that the action made the dispute “harder to resolve”.
“This threatening behaviour is expected from BA,” he said. “We knew they were going to threaten to do that, it’s what they do in every strike dispute.”
Union officials denied that the strike action was driven by greed, blaming instead the airline’s “macho” management style and a drive to cut costs that has increasingly seen it go down the path of no-frills carriers.
The union and the airline had both said they were willing to resume talks to end the stand-off, but - despite the respective offers and intervention from Downing Street - the strikes are going ahead as planned.
An additional strike is already planned for 27 September, however The Sun reports action “could last until Christmas” with pilots preparing for a long-term campaign of disruption.
The FT reported on Friday that thousands of the wealthiest BA pilots had drawn up plans to contribute to a private fund for an extended strike period that would see hundreds more flights grounded in the coming months.
Each strike day could cost BA an estimated £40m, however, the long-term impact to its brand could be far more damaging.
It emerged yesterday that Alva, a reputation management company, ranked BA 55th out of the world’s 65 major airlines.