British Airways has been plunged into chaos as thousands of its pilots have launched a two-day strike on Monday.
For the first time in the airline’s history, pilots walked out on September 9 for two days, with one more scheduled for later this month. More than 1,700 flights were cancelled, the airline said.
BA has 4,311 pilots – 3,994 based at Heathrow and 317 at Gatwick. The company said 1,061 did not vote for industrial action, where 93% members of the union British Airline Pilots Associaton (Balpa) voted in favour of the strike.
As the walkout gains momentum, speculation mounts and #BAstrike trends on Twitter, one question is on the lips of many - what’s it all about, really?
Why is a strike happening?
Make no mistake: this is about money. BA offered the pilots an 11.5% pay rise over three years - which it says would take the pay of some captains to more than £200,00 - but Balpa says its members want more of a share of the airline’s profits.
The union says pilots took sacrifices in hard times to support their company and deserve to have their request granted, in exchange for literally riding with the airline through its difficult patch.
In response to this, a BA spokesman said: “Nearly half of Balpa members joined BA after the 2008 economic crash so they did not make any financial sacrifices.
“Since then, the aviation industry has become ever more globally competitive. We have had to make some difficult decisions to create the strong financial platform we now have, and which provides stability for our entire workforce, including pilots.
“Because of this we are now able to invest £6.5 billion over the next four years across BA, including 73 new aircraft bringing new opportunities for career progression for our pilots, as well as a secure future at BA.”
How much will it cost?
According to Balpa, just one day of strike action will cost BA around £40m - so the two-day walkout will cost approximately £80m.
The union said it put forward a number of packages during several days of talks at the conciliation service Acas that it believed would have resolved the dispute without a strike.
“The gap between BA’s position and Balpa’s position is about £5m,” it said.
“Our proposal remains on the table should BA wish to reach agreement prior to strike action.”
Who will be affected?
Around 195,000 people would have flown with BA over the two days. Thousands of customers received emails in August warning of flight disruption.
BA’s customer service lines became jammed as travellers scrambled to find alternative arrangements.
The company’s Twitter feed was also inundated with messages from frustrated customers, with some complaining they would miss weddings and honeymoons.
Other flyers complained about a four-week wait for refunds and said bookings on their flights were still listed for sale online.
BA says it has expanded its customer relations teams since the strike dates were announced last month, and has received 111,000 tweets and almost 400,000 calls a day.
Tens of thousands of people have had refunds or rebooked flights with BA or with other airlines.
What has the reaction been?
Downing Street waded in on the matter on Monday, urging both sides in the dispute to “get round the table and sort this out”.
A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “Nobody should have their travel plans disrupted or their holidays ruined. The unions and BA need to get round the table and sort this out. The public would expect nothing less.”
The strikes could be called off if the airline agrees to hold fresh talks, union leaders have said.
BA chief executive Alex Cruz has called for discussions with union bosses to continue in order to bring an end to the pilots’ strike.
He told the BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme on Monday: “The discussions must continue, they must be unconditional.
“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”.
On the other hand, Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton claimed BA is refusing to negotiate over the pay deal.
He added: “BA says it is prepared to talk but it isn’t actually prepared to negotiate. Saying we are prepared to talk is not the point, are people prepared to negotiate? Balpa is prepared to negotiate, Balpa is prepared to compromise”.
Strutton said it was regrettable that there had been so much disruption for passengers. “It’s important we do try to resolve this because pilots and BA have fallen out badly,” he declared.
“The pilots have no respect for their management or the direction of travel at British Airways at the moment. We really need to restore that because what is an airline without its pilots?”
For now, it is unclear if or when the deadlock will break.