After two days, hostility over British Airways pilot strike intensifies

As the most damaging strike in British Airways’ history draws to a close, hostility between the airline and the union seems to have intensified.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) urged BA “to return to negotiations with something positive to resolve this dispute”. The union warned that if the airline refused “meaningful negotiations” then the next planned industrial action will go ahead on 27 September – with the prospect of further strikes. 

Balpa’s general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “Surely any reasonable employer would listen to such a clear message, stop threatening and bullying, and start working towards finding a solution.”

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During a 48-hour strike 1,700 fights were cancelled, almost 200,000 passenger journeys disrupted and up to £100m lost by BA – in addition to reputational damage and further loss of revenue for future bookings.

Three-quarters of all British Airways pilots voted for industrial action.

The airline said: “With no detail from Balpa on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly.

“We had no option but to cancel nearly 100 per cent of our flights.”

Services flown by other carriers for BA – notably Gatwick to New York and Heathrow to Cairo – survived the cull. So too did two exceptional flights.

On Monday, BA1461 flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow and BA007 took off from Heathrow to Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

British Airways had promised Scottish Rugby the airline would fly the team to Japan for the Rugby World Cup. While every other flight was cancelled, the airline rostered “management pilots” – flight crew who have executive roles but keep up their flying careers – to fly the aircraft.

Flights were expected to restart at 9.35pm British time on Tuesday evening with a departure from Nairobi to Heathrow.

But the airline has warned that disruption will continue on Wednesday and Thursday, saying: “The nature of our highly complex global operation means that it will take some time to get back to a completely normal flight schedule. 

“Due to the union’s strike action, nearly half of our fleet of over 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots will start the day in the wrong place.

“In addition, more than 4,000 cabin crew have had disruption to their rosters, and in many cases will be unable to operate again for several days due to legal rest requirements.”

If the pilots’ strike on 27 September is not called off, BA is expected to send out cancellation notifications on Wednesday or Thursday.

Further chaos is possible at BA’s main base on Friday, when the Heathrow Pause group of climate-change protestors intends to shut down Europe’s biggest airport with the use of drones.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are working closely with a number of stakeholders including the police, Nats and the CAA to ensure that the UK’s hub airport does not close.

“We have in place dynamic risk assessment programmes which are carried out by airfield and security experts and at no time will safety be compromised.”

Just before Christmas 2018, around 150,000 passengers had their travel plans wrecked by someone operating a drone illegally in the airspace of Gatwick airport.

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