British Airways, like many airlines that operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, has been facing a scheduling nightmare after European aviation regulators issued an urgent safety directive for the aircraft. A problem has been found with a compressor in the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines on the 787-9 variant – meaning that airlines have been forced to schedule maintenance checks much earlier than expected.
The problem only affects the -900 variant of the Dreamliner and not all airlines are affected as some opted for an engine by General Electric. Nonetheless, Rolls Royce has been put under a lot of strain and airlines are queueing up to get their affected planes into the hangar, get checked over by Rolls Royce technicians, and have any remedial work sorted out. There are 340 engines worldwide which need to be checked.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has issued its own safety directive, meaning airlines have to comply with weight restrictions and they can’t fly their affected planes too far away from an airport – just in case they have to urgently divert. Suffice to say, airlines are not happy with Rolls Royce – due to both the problem arising in the first place and the speed with which it is getting resolved.
With the work expected to take several months at least, some airlines have chosen to lease planes in order to fill the gaping holes in their flight schedules. Virgin Atlantic, for example, has leased two Airbus A330 jets which belonged to the now-defunct airberlin. Virgin has even painted the plane’s in its own colours.
Air New Zealand, which has also been impacted, has taken the decision to lease two Boeing 777’s rather than continuing to make refuelling stops for its flights to Los Angeles and Houston. While the 777’s don’t belong to Air New Zealand, the flights will be operated by the airline’s pilots and cabin crew.
Some airlines are wet leasing planes
Other airlines, like Norwegian, however, have gone down the route of wet leasing aircraft – where the leasing company provides both the plane and crew. It’s a fairly common practice, especially when an airline has to temporarily increase its capacity for a specific event.
A few weeks ago, we heard that British Airways was also thinking of wet leasing some long-haul planes while its own Boeing 787-9’s, of which the airline currently owns 18, are undergoing the urgent maintenance checks. The news was revealed in an application the airline made with British aviation authorities to wet lease three Airbus A330 aircraft from Qatar Airways.
And while Qatar Airways isn’t a specialist leasing airline, this arrangement did seem to make sense on a number of levels – The airline owns a significant stake in IAG (the parent company of British Airways), it has lots of spare aircraft as a result of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar and it isn’t without precedent (during a cabin crew strike at British Airways last year, the airline wet-leased a number of short-haul aircraft from Qatar).
British Airways WILL wet-lease planes from Qatar Airways
British Airways has finally confirmed that it will be using the Qatar Airways planes on three long-haul routes between 9th June to 21st August – Kuwait, Muscat and Dehli. More details about which flights are affected can be found on this Flyer Talk thread.
And while Qatar Airways normally receives glowing reviews from passengers, this deal might actually work out as a significant downgrade for some flyers. For example, these planes don’t come with a First Class cabin so premium passengers will be downgraded to Business Class (and those seats might not even have fully-flat seats).
Nor do the planes have a Premium Economy cabin – so everyone who booked one of BA’s so-called World Traveller Plus seats will instead find themselves in Economy. And even worse, as the A330’s don’t have as many Business Class seats as that on BA’s 787-9’s, some passengers might be downgraded from Business to Economy.
This could prove a significant downgrade
British Airways has told passengers that they’ll receive a refund of the difference in price if they are downgraded.
What’s more, Qatar Airways won’t be able to offer Duty-Free, pre-allocated seating, pre-ordered meals or proper Kosher meals.
Some passengers may also not want to fly with Qatar Airways. Take the Emirati family who refused to board a Qatar Airways plane which they had expected to be operated by British Airways during last summer’s wet lease agreement.
And then there are concerns about the way in which Qatar Airways treats its cabin crew. In the last few weeks, we’ve received numerous allegations of continuing discrimination and unfair employment practices levelled against the airline from a number of insider sources.
British Airways associating itself with discrimination and staff abuse?
It’s fair to say, British Airways (or any other European airline for that matter) would never be allowed be allowed to treat its cabin crew in the way Qatar Airways is alleged to treat its crew.
“British Airways customers will be alarmed at Qatar Airways’ record on sex discrimination and the lengths British Airways is going to try an undermine lawful strike action,” explained Oliver Richardson, from the Unite union which represents many BA cabin crew.
Speaking during last years strike action, Richardson commented:
“The world is watching an airline that once prided itself as the world’s favourite, becoming associated with inequality, bullying and downright vindictiveness.”
Qatar Airways cabin crew are expected to work longer hours than BA’s own crew, with less time off between flights. It’s thought that the crew will be staying in the UK during the wet lease period but it’s unknown whether they’ll be working to European rules or Qatar’s less stringent standards.
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.