BA pilot says staff ‘stressed and leaving’ and disruption may ‘last into winter’

Travel chaos sent Brits into a tailspin over the last few weeks as hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed, including the likes of easyJet, TUI, British Airways and Ryanair.

Various statements were released over the half-term holidays blaming the holiday cancellations on “IT issues” and “staff shortages”, but have also alerted customers that some cancellations will last throughout June.

Now, a British Airways pilot has warned that issues with flights could continue until the winter, reports the Mirror.

The anonymous pilot predicted that more flights would be grounded this summer, on top of the 10% of services BA has already cancelled from March to October this year.

"A pilot I was speaking to the other day said he hadn't been worked this hard in 15 years at the company," the BA employee said. "We're full on at the moment. There are not many happy people right now. It is a perfect storm."

The pilot explained how massively reduced demand triggered by the pandemic caused the industry go into "money saving mode" and ask "how can we mitigate the losses and take as much money as we can from the Government?"

"An airline isn't a charity, they're there to protect the share holders, but it's been pretty cut throat," the pilot continued.

"They cut all the jobs that they wanted to cut and furloughed everyone. When demand slowly came back, it was mixed in with the government strategy to restart the aviation industry, which was appalling."

The BA worker said a combination of the confusing an expensive testing regime, Brexit uncertainty and regular rule changing by the government had caused huge certainty across airlines.

And, when travel re-opened BA was not ready to get its services running at full-tilt again, the pilot claimed.

"We had no warning as an industry," they said. "For me, being fully back online, you need two months' warning. The industry was given weeks. There was no time. That time frame is for someone who is on the company books and has experience.

"To do a recruitment campaign and then training and security checks, that takes months."

Many of the pilot's colleagues left during the pandemic and found better work for themselves, with easier hours and higher pay, they said.

"The airlines didn't realise people would go," they continued. "The fire and rehire by Heathrow and pay cuts, people didn't want to do it anymore. The blame is across the whole industry."

The BA employee said pilots are now offered regular overtime offered but also told that they're overstaffed.

"They're not admitting they're short on pilots," they said. "We might be correctly crewed by winter time. There is no chance this will be sorted this summer. The last month (August) might be okay.

"But new staff don't want to come because they know the pay has been cut and everyone is doing overtime. That's everyone: baggage handlers, cabin crew, all the rest."

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The pilot went on to explain how BA workers' rotas are currently full, meaning they're unable to take on extra shifts due to strict laws around workloads.

As a result back-up teams held in standby at airports and at their homes were being deployed to cover fatigue and sickness absences, already using up what little slack there is before the summer has begun in proper.

This means more cancelled flights and delays, the pilot claimed.

Morale is apparently low among staff – and the pilot believes workers are migrating to opponent airlines with better shift patterns.

"People are stressed out and they're leaving," the pilot said.

"Everyone is working so hard. The union has said they have seen very high levels of fatigue reporting."

The pilot urged BA to do more to fix staffing levels and claimed that the company's attempt to hire more cabin crew by offering a £1,000 golden hello had had little impact.

"It would've been even better if the industry had a chance to prepare for this," they continued. "By the end of the summer the tables will have turned in terms of negotiating terms and conditions for staff. During Covid they had us by the necks."

A BA spokesperson said: "While it’s disappointing to hear this view from one of our more than four thousand world class pilots, we offer an industry leading career path for our flight crew including the opportunity to work on a range of new aircraft, flying to a variety of global destinations with an extremely competitive salary and package.

"Because of our approach, we have never had an issue attracting or retaining flight crew."

BA pointed out that pilots were given a 5% pay award this year as well as offering training programmes and facilities in its world class and competitive training centre.

  • Passengers told to bring one piece of cabin luggage on flights to 'reduce disruption'

Safety is the company's highest regard and the flight cancellations were pre-planned and actioned around a month and a half ago with customers being told of this at the time.

BA added: "It’s been a challenging period for the entire industry and at British Airways we're completely focused on three priorities: our customers, supporting the biggest recruitment drive in our history and increasing our operational resilience.

"We took action to reduce our schedule to help provide certainty for our customers and are giving them maximum flexibility to either rebook with us or another airline as close to their original departure time as possible, or to receive a full refund."

It also said that pilots are not flying while fatigued and that cancellations being reported now are included in the 10% reduction from March to October.

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