With less than 24 hours before a planned walkout by cabin crew at British Airways, nine Qatar Airways aircraft have arrived at Heathrow Airport in an attempt to break the strike. The first Airbus A320 aircraft arrived in the UK from Doha just after 2 pm today and throughout the afternoon, the small fleet of wet-leased jets took up their positions on the tarmac at the West London airport.
Last weekend, it was revealed that British Airways had applied to the UK’s aviation watchdog, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to lease the Qatari aircraft throughout July. The application coincided with a proposed cabin crew strike that is set to go ahead for two weeks, beginning on 1st July.
Although the CAA never confirmed it had granted BA’s request, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of the airline’s parent company, appeared at a press event on Thursday and said that use of the Qatar Airways aircraft would go ahead. The wet-lease agreement means that Qatar Airways will be providing both the aircraft and crew to staff the jets.
It’s understood that in the last few days pilots and cabin crew working for Qatar Airways were informed they would be sent to London. The airline is sending two ‘teams’ to help break the strike. Each team will spend one week based in London and will be staying in hotels close to Britain’s only hub airport.
Qatar Airways currently has a surplus of aircraft and crew after the airline was forced to suspend operations to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. As a significant investor in BA’s parent company, IAG, the Doha-based airline was said to be keen to get involved in the dispute.
The following aircraft, all in Qatar Airways livery have been sent to London:
- A7-ADA – 15 years old
- A7-ADB – 15 years old
- A7-ADC – 15 years old
- A7-ADD – 14 years old
- A7-ADE – 14 years old
- A7-ADF – 13 years old
- A7-ADG – 13 years old
- A7-ADI – 13 years old
As you can see, the aircraft are significantly older than the three and a half year average age of the airline’s fleet. Although an unusual sight, an A320 in Qatar Airways livery isn’t an unheard of sight at Heathrow Airport. The carriers luxe A320 executive aircraft occasionally stops at the airport for the very well heeled.
On 01st July – the first day of the strike, Flightradar24 is currently showing the Qatar Airways aircraft as operating the following British Airways services:
BA388: London to Brussels, BA391: Brussels to London, BA948 : London to Munich, BA949: Munich to London, BA356: London to Nice, BA357: Nice to London, BA762: London to Oslo, BA763: Oslo to London, BA872: London to Krakow, BA873: Krakow to London, BA890: London to Sofia, BA891: Sofia to London, BA464: London to Madrid, BA465: Madrid to London, BA882: London to Kiev, BA883: Kiev to London.
If the strike goes ahead as planned – and there’s no reason to suspect it won’t – it will be the longest walkout in a long-running dispute over cabin crew pay and conditions. Although British Airways has agreed to increase pay for staff working on the so-called ‘Mixed Fleet’ contract it has refused to return concessionary travel rights to cabin crew who have taken part in previous strikes.
It’s understood from several sources within British Airways that the airline would be willing to return staff travel rights in principle but is refusing to do so as it would set a ‘precedent’ for any future staff disputes. Senior executives are said to be concerned that “giving in” to the staff union would show management to be weak and susceptible to more demands and strike action.
New Head of Customer Experience Appointed
However, in more positive news, British Airways has found a new director of brand and customer experience. Troy Warfield, who had only been in the position since last year, suddenly announced his departure last week. As well as being in charge of customer experience, Warfield also had cabin crew management within his portfolio. He had cut a controversial figure with no prior experience working for an airline.
At the time, BA said it would find his replacement in “due course” but has now confirmed Carolina Martinoli will be Warfield’s successor. Martinoli will be joining British Airways from Iberia, another IAG company, where she has been the chief customer officer and marketing director since 2011.
According to Martinoli’s Linkedin page, she’s “responsible for brand, advertising, sponsorship, improves customer knowledge, product & services design and loyalty program.” During her time at the Spanish flag-carrier, Martinoli has led a brand turnaround which has seen customer satisfaction in the once languid airline significantly improve.
“Carolina has an excellent track record at Iberia and before. I’m delighted she is joining us to drive forward our plans for strengthening our great brand and investing for customers,” commented BA’s chief executive, Alex Cruz.
Cruz will be hoping that Martinoli can improve BA’s brand and image after a series of setbacks that have seen airline’s reputation plummet. Although her first and biggest challenge might be to heal the wounds between cabin crew and management.