Ground staff working for British Airways at London Heathrow airport have voted to strike this summer in a pay dispute – the strike is due to take place in July.
The BA workers, who are members of the GMB union and mostly check-in staff, are striking over pay.
Their wages were cut by 10% due to the decrease in flying during the Covid pandemic. While BA has now offered a one off payment, equivalent to 10%, union members want that cash reflected in their basic pay and the cut reversed.
Additionally, BA cut more than 10,000 jobs during the height of the pandemic and is struggling to get back to full operational strength.
This has lead to stressful working conditions for staff amid ongoing flight delays and cancellations at UK airports.
GMB general secretary Gary Smith told BBC Breakfast: “I don’t think this is going to stop with customer check-in staff. There are many of our members across the BA business who are sick to death of the cuts within the company.
“They’ve seen the company being run into the ground over many years, they are very angry about the cynical exploitation of the pandemic by the people at the top of BA and people want to see the pay and conditions restored.”
“However, employers in the travel industry have a difficult tightrope to walk. A two-year black hole in income caused by Covid, followed by the rising cost of fuel and the current airport crisis creates difficulties for any airline.”
Witt adds: “BA will want to do what’s right for its people, but they have to balance the books and turn a rotor, otherwise no-one wins and ultimately the biggest losers are the customers.”
The unions said holidaymakers face disruption, warning of a summer of strikes. Here’s what you need to know about how the strikes might impact travel.
Where and when will the BA strikes be?
Should the strikes go ahead in the summer, they are currently only affecting Heathrow, Witt stressed – not yet other airports across the UK.
However, the GMB and Unite unions are consulting engineers and call centre staff at Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle on taking action, the BBC reported.
Union officials have yet to announce dates of the Heathrow strikes. This is because two weeks’ notice of industrial action must be given to an employer.
The earliest that a stoppage could begin is 8 July. Insiders have speculated that the first strike could happen on the weekend of the July 9 and 10, which would be the first weekend of summer holidays for some private schools in England.
What should I bear in mind when booking a flight?
“We recommend customers book as normal,” says Witt. “Airports and airlines are working together to minimise disruption and good travel agents will ensure customers are fully protected in case anything does go wrong.”
If you’ve already booked a holiday with BA this summer, there isn’t much you can do right now other than waiting for the strike dates to be announced and if they will lead to flight cancellations.
If you have a journey that is time-critical, you might want to consider booking an alternative flight, but do bear in mind that you will only be able to get a refund on your BA flight if it’s grounded.
It’s always good practice to pay for flights and holidays on a credit card if you have one and where your transaction is more than £100, according to travel industry expert Emma Coulthurst.
“You have better consumer protections if you do this,” she previously told HuffPost UK. “As long as you put even a £1 on your credit card (and make sure you pay it off so you don’t incur interest), you will be protected.”
Coulthurst also recommended making sure you have travel insurance in place at the time of booking.
What should I do if my flight gets grounded?
Travellers should give their airline a chance to meet its obligations rather than book on to another airline,” says Athina Macpherson, who works for travel comparison sites Travel Supermarket and icelolly.com
“The cancellation message from an airline normally contains a rebook link – though this will look only at the airline’s own service. If an alternative flight on the cancelling carrier is available on the same day, customers will need to accept it (or claim a full refund),” Macpherson tells HuffPost UK.
“Make sure the company who the booking is made with and the airline have [your] up-to-date contact details, so that if the airline is cancelling flights customers can be contacted instantly and plugged into the people who are able to help.”
Will I receive compensation if my flights are cancelled due to a strike?
Flight compensation rights due to extraordinary circumstances like strikes can prove to be complicated. A strike isn’t always seen as “extraordinary circumstances” under the terms and conditions of the ticket booking – it depends on who is striking.
If airport staff are striking, airlines don’t have any control of this so though you’re entitled to assistance, you cannot claim extra compensation for delays.
But if it’s airline staff striking, like ground crew or cabin crew, this is seen as within an airline’s control as it is negotiating with its staff. Therefore, if you’re delayed, you should be entitled to compensation.
What should the airline be offering me?
Those travelling to or from the UK are protected by the new Air Passenger Rights, explains Macpherson
“This means that an airline must offer the choice of a replacement flight at the earliest opportunity or to refund the ticket price. If the replacement flight is chosen the customer is entitled to meals and refreshments appropriate to the waiting time.
“If the replacement flight departs the next day or later, the airline must also provide hotel accommodation and the necessary transfers.”
In the case of a package holiday, customers are entitled to an alternative offered by the tour operator, if the tour operator is able to do so.
“If this alternative is a significant change to the original holiday (generally a change of more than 12 hours on a 14-night holiday is considered to be a significant change) then the tour operator must also offer the choice of a refund. This is a refund of the full package price, not just the flight part,” she says.