Members of the British Airline Pilots Association have begun a 48-hour walkout over a long-running dispute over pay.
The first-ever strike by British Airways pilots is expected to be the biggest walkout in the airline’s history, causing disruption for tens of thousands of travellers.
BA passengers have been told to avoid airports during the two-day action, which started at midnight.
Members of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) have a long-running dispute over pay, and “almost all” UK departures and international departures scheduled for Monday and Tuesday have been cancelled.
The union and the airline had both said they were willing to resume talks to end the stand-off, but – despite the respective offers and intervention from Downing Street – the strikes are going ahead as planned.
Heathrow terminal 5 is a ghost town with the BA pilot strike, only ten flights expected all day. Many retail stores are closed. What an absolute pleasure to breeze through the airport, so peaceful. pic.twitter.com/mkd3pJ7Lwa
— Sean Joffe (@seanjoffe) September 9, 2019
In a statement posted on its website, BA said its customer teams were “working tirelessly” to provide alternative options for affected travellers – including refunds and new flight dates – with only a “few” still to be helped.
Not only are those who were due to fly on Monday and Tuesday being advised not to go to the airport, there may be knock-on disruption for people with journeys planned for Wednesday. This is because planes and pilots will likely need extra time to get back into the swing of normal operations.
In an interview with Sky News, the airline’s chief executive Alex Cruz said the action was an “own goal” and part of a “cynical” action by the union. He also demanded fresh talks with no pre-conditions.
He said: “We want to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible for our customers and, frankly, for everyone that works at British Airways.”
Mr Cruz refused to put a cost on the disruption though a court heard in July that BA believed the bill would be up to £40m daily.
Shares in BA’s parent firm IAG – down 30% in the year to date – were 3% down early on Monday.
What is the official advice from BA?
Passengers are asked to visit the FAQ section of the BA website and explore their options for refunds or rearranging flight plans in the Manage My Booking section – and call the airline if more information is needed.
Those who booked through a travel agent should contact them directly.
Why are the pilots going on strike?
Pilots have rejected a pay rise from BA worth 11.5% over the next three years, saying it is not in line with the healthy financials being enjoyed by the company.
They argue that they accepted far lower pay rises when the IAG-owned firm was not doing so well, but the airline has said the pilots enjoy “world-class” salaries that are “fair and generous”.
By the end of the three years, BA says the average captain would be earning more than £200,000 a year.
But at the moment, co-pilots and those manning short-haul flights earn much lower than the £167,000 already earned by their long-haul counterparts.
Unions for other members of BA staff, such as cabin and ground crew, have accepted pay rises.
How many people will be affected?
With more than 4,000 pilots not going to work on Monday and Tuesday, BA is going to have to cancel most of the approximately 800 flights it would normally expect to run each day.
Some 145,000 passengers could fly on a single day, and BA chairman and chief executive Alex Cruz told Sky News last month that the strike action would “destroy” their travel plans.
What will happen next?
If there is no progress in talks between BA and Balpa, another strike is due to go ahead on 27 September.
BA has said it will be in contact with passengers in the next few weeks if their flight is affected, adding: “We don’t underestimate the inconvenience caused, for which we are deeply sorry.”
The union has insisted that it wants to return to the negotiating table, but its general secretary Brian Strutton has said its olive branch has so far not been taken up.
He said: “The gap between what we’re asking for and BA is just £5m – much less than the £40m it will cost per day of strike action.”
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