The start of a 48-hour walkout by British Airways pilots forced the national carrier to cancel virtually all flights on Monday, with no sign of a resolution ahead of more planned strikes.
Heathrow Terminal 5, BA’s main operating hub, was almost deserted, when it would normally be bustling with passengers. BA carries about 145,000 passengers on an average day.
Only five BA flights were expected to operate out of about 800 that would normally be scheduled after its first ever pilot strike, called by the union Balpa in a long-running pay dispute. Two of the flights were leases, where the plane and crew are hired under another operator, and the other three are understood to have been flown by non-Balpa pilots in BA’s management team.
Balpa has rejected a pay rise of 11.9% over three years, arguing for a profit share for its members, who have accepted cuts to pay and pensions in previous years but now argue they should get more because the company is posting record profits.
The BA chief executive, Álex Cruz, called for “unconditional” talks to continue but Balpa said the airline had refused to commit to meaningful negotiations.
BA had spent weeks contacting passengers to offer refunds or to rebook travel to another date or airline since 23 August, when the strike dates were announced.
Some of the few travelling through Terminal 5 at Heathrow on Monday morning described BA’s home base as a “ghost town”.
While BA was criticised as customers initially struggled to get through to call centres and some were wrongly advised their flights were cancelled, the airline said it had fielded almost 400,000 calls to help customers. Operational problems could continue after the strike because planes and pilots need to be in position for subsequent journeys.
BA is expected to start confirming cancellations for late September in the next couple of days, with a further Balpa strike due on 27 September, should the standoff continue.
Cruz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The commitment of everyone at British Airways is to get over this particular dispute as quickly as possible. We urge the union to please sit down with us as quickly as we can so that we can reach an agreement.”
The Balpa general secretary, Brian Strutton, said BA needed to “wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard”.
He said: “They’ve previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits.
“BA must now put the needs of its staff and passengers first and accept that its pilots will not be bullied or fobbed off.
“The company’s leaders, who themselves are paid huge salaries and have generous benefits packages, won’t listen, are refusing to negotiate and are putting profits before the needs of passengers and staff.”
The UK Guardian
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