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The British Airways Christmas Cabin Crew Strike: What You Need to Know

The latest in a string of large Euro carriers to deal with a large scale strike action by their crew, British Airways will be having something of a nightmare Christmas.

The bad news – the industrial action on the part of British Airways cabin crew will push through as planned. The good news – it’s not all bad.

The Scoop:

The way British Airways (BA) structures their cabin crew ranks and unions is unique to many other airlines. This is partly due to the merger of BOAC and British European Airways decades ago and partly due to cost rationalizing the cabin crew pay structure.

There’s basically three different groups of crew:

  • WorldWide Crew – these guys are usually the most senior crew and do most of BA’s longhaul routes to far flung destinations in Asia, Australia, Africa and South America. Select North American routes also apply to this set of crew; they fly these routes exclusively.
  • EuroFleet – this set of crew do exclusively European runs and also tends to run senior, as many of them are parents and want to make it back home on most nights rather than layover at a further destination. Most of these crew were transferred over from BEA.
  • Mixed Fleet – this is the new crew group added in 2010 and do both select European and International destinations, depending on what the airline negotiates with the different unions and aircraft requirements. Newer aircraft that are being introduced into the British Airways fleet, such as the 787 (both -8 and -9 variants), are all exclusively going to Mixed Fleet as the airline ultimately aims for everyone to be on this contract. The problem is, this contract is much more restrictive than the existing contracts for WorldWide and EuroFleet crew and pays way less. Given that all crew have only been recruited post 2010, they are all quite ‘junior’ and young.

So it’s important to note that not all British Airways cabin crew are planning on striking – just the ones on Mixed Fleet. This makes a huge difference because it means only select flights operated by this crew group will be affected. 

While in the past the other two more senior crew have gone on strike as Mixed Fleet took on more routes, this time it’s the turn of the most junior group to strike for better conditions.

Unite, the union for Mixed Fleet crew, claims that their members are being paid what they call “poverty pay” and as a result are flying even when unfit. They are demanding for the “living wage” which in the United Kingdom is not the same as minimum wage.

Alex Cruz, Chief Executive Officer of British Airways, says that the timing of the strike is cynical and designed to cause maximum disruption over the busy Christmas schedule. He also claims that the crew make between $35,000 to $40,000 a year for full time workers.

That said he’s agreed to talks, which might quell some of the rising tensions at the airline. Unite have agreed to meet at the table and welcomed the move to try to improve working conditions for crew, especially in light of record profits at BA.

British Airways cabin crew from their “Mixed Fleet” have decided to strike for better working pay and conditions over the busy Christmas period, throwing a spanner in the works for the airline’s planned operations.

The Takeaway:

While it’s a massive positive that the two parties are meeting and negotiating, it is highly unlikely that an agreement will be reached within the next few days, which means the Christmas and Boxing Day strikes are confirmed to go ahead.

Bad news.

But Cruz has also said that all flights, including those operated by Mixed Fleet, will go ahead as planned:

“Over the weekend we have been working on detailed contingency plans to ensure that we are able to operate our normal flight programme from all our airports on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day.”

Not so bad news.

What exactly these “contingency plans” are is not clear and details are at the moment sparse. But if we were to go with past precedent at British Airways during strike periods, ‘wet leases’ (as in both the aircraft and operating crew are leased) will be activated from charter operators such as Pegasus, Monarch Airways and Vision Airlines.

So what this means is that while your flight will operated (probably with some delays), don’t expect a BA aircraft and don’t expect BA service. In fact some flights that have scheduled meal services might not get catered on shorter routes, while on longer routes catering very likely won’t be up to BA standards.

So double check your flight and whether it’s one of those affected. All Heathrow long haul flights will be operated and normal terms and conditions of your ticket applies – no waivers here. 

It’s a different story for British Airways flight operating domestically within the UK and Europe. As we mentioned above, while flights might physically operate, expect delays and limited service. Check here to see if your flight is one of those affected. As such the airline has offered some waivers and limited free re-bookings through their website.

Per the airline’s site, this is what your entitled to…it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing and at least gives you some options:

If you hold a valid ticket for travel on one of these routes (issued before 16 December) you can take advantage of one of the three following options:

  • Rebook onto an alternative British Airways operated service, same point of origin and destination for travel before Christmas or up to 355 days in the future.
  • Reroute onto a British Airways operated service to/from an alternative destination within 300 miles radius from the original point of origin/destination. The alternative destination must not be included in the list of affected routes above.
  • Change your destination. The value of the original ticket may be used towards the purchase of a completely new ticket to an alternative British Airways destination.

This policy also applies if you are transferring through Heathrow and your journey includes a non-affected long haul service as well as a short haul service.

For some reason, if you didn’t book your ticket from, the re-booking process is rather convoluted for such a large carrier operating in 2016:

If you booked directly with British Airways or via our website

If you booked your flight through a travel agent:

Please contact them directly to make any changes to your booking.

If you have booked a holiday, hotel, car hire or experience with British Airways Holidays:

Please contact us to make alternative arrangements:

A range of flexible rebooking policies are available for potentially affected short haul cities.

Please note:

If you rebook onto a British Airways flight outside of the proposed strike period and subsequently discover that your original flight is going to operate then you will be allowed to rebook back onto the original flight at no extra cost, subject to availability.

Unfortunately, expect long call wait times as we’ve seen in past British Airways strikes, and we’d advise to change as soon as possible if you do want to change – no extra flights are being added in the period following the strikes so seat availability may be limited – especially for those on award tickets.

All BA flights operating from London Gatwick, City and Stansted will operate normally as no Mixed Fleet crew are based there. 

And as we always (always) recommend in these types of situations, check, check then double check again your flight status. Things can be fluid in these situations and cancellations might arise in the end even after BA’s best efforts. So always be informed before heading to the airport.

Good luck to all those traveling for the holidays, seems like BA’s got this one handled but it’s always good to be in the know! Would you risk travel on an affected flight to get home for the holidays? I think I would! (then seek compensation later…hey, I’m not a saint, either)

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