Senior managers at British Airways may be breathing a huge collective sigh of relief this weekend. The carrier has been beset with problems of late – a catastrophic IT meltdown, criticism of its cost-cutting programme and a high-profile staff dispute have seen its ratings tumble. There’s even talk, the airline could be set to lose its four-star Skytrax rating.
BA has been working overtime to stem the flow of negative publicity. The cost of compensation and goodwill gestures to make up for its computer failure will likely set the airline back £150 million. The carrier has also recently announced a £400 million investment plan for its premium cabins, including its often derided Club World, Business Class product. Even First Class has had amuse-bouche and lavatory flower reinstated.
There’s just one more problem to iron out – yet it could prove to be the trickiest. Following a series of strikes last year, a deal was recently tabled to put an end to a bitter cabin crew pay dispute. The union, Unite and its members accused British Airways of “poverty pay” and said cabin crew couldn’t afford to live on the wages they were being paid.
Last year, flight attendants belonging to the Mixed Fleet branch of Cabin Crew staged a series of strikes in protest. British Airways initially refused to concede ground but eventually agreed to arbitration in a last-ditch attempt to hammer out a deal. The talks are said to have gone well and a new offer was tabled for a vote.
Pay Deal Rejected Demanding Reinstatement of Travel Privileges
Unfortunately for BA, the deal was swiftly rejected and further strike action was called by Unite. The latest four-day walkout was due to begin Friday but British Airways claimed: “Strike action is completely unnecessary”. A spokesperson for the airline commented: “We had reached a deal on pay.”
At this point, it’s important to understand why the deal was rejected – because it’s no longer about money as has been widely reported. The sticking point centres on discount travel privileges that BA withdrew from staff members involved in the protest action.
British Airways is to invest £400 million in upgrading its Club World (long-haul business class) product.
Posted by Paddle Your Own Kanoo on Saturday, 10 June 2017
British Airways has said that it offered a one time deal to reinstate concessionary travel benefits to staff – but only if they returned to work at the very height of the dispute. Flight attendants who continued to strike have been stripped of their travel privileges for at least 12 months. Staggeringly, the new pay deal was to have the flight attendants vote in favour of this decision.
Punishing Staff for Going on Strike
For its part, Unite has stood squarely behind its members following their rejection of the deal. A spokesperson has pointed out: “Punishing staff for using legitimate industrial means to reach a wage deal is a culture that Unite cannot accept and a culture that will ultimately damage the BA brand”.
There is, however, some good news that broke earlier on Saturday – London’s Evening Standard newspaper is now reporting that the strike has been “suspended” to allow further talks between the two sides.
Hopefully both sides will now be able to come to an agreement if there is any hope of salvaging the Mixed Fleet programme. We’ve seen internal BA documents that make bold claims of what the cabin crew should represent.
“Our vision is to be a centre of excellence for customer service”
“Mixed Fleet is the latest chapter in the proud tradition of British Airways Inflight Customer Experience,” says the leaked document. It continues: “Our vision is to be a centre of excellence for customer service and hospitality, setting standards that others aspire to.”
British Airways is going to have an uphill battle if it plans to reach that vision anytime soon.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.