Updated on Monday 4th February 2019 with additional information and comment from British Airways.
In a recent memo that has been seen by PYOK, the Unite union which represents cabin crew at Heathrow-based British Airways warns the airline will not clean certain short-haul aircraft away from home base. The news comes just months after the airline embarked on what it described as an “ultra-clean” project to get its aircraft back up to scratch after passengers and crew alike complained about the filthy state of its cabins.
In a number of incidents, which isn’t necessarily linked to cleanliness, passengers complained of being bitten by bedbugs while travelling on British Airways aircraft. On one occasion, cabin crew even refused to fly because they noticed some seats were infested with bedbugs and a top official in the Ghanaian government warned it would take enforcement action against British Airways if it didn’t remedy the situation.
“It has been brought to our attention that British Airways have begun a trial whereby there will be no cleaning completed in the cabin during turnarounds,” the memo, which has been confirmed by several sources, reads.
“The company has confirmed that this trial is being carried out in response to improving turnaround performance for customers and will focus particularly on reducing delays during times of disruption,” it continues.
It is now understood that the short four-day trial on one of BA’s shortest European services has now come to an end. Cabin crew were encouraged to collect as much trash as possible prior to landing to get the aircraft turned around as quickly as possible.
However, the union has apparently told its members that they are not to get involved in cleaning the aircraft once on the ground. In contrast with a number of low-cost European airlines where cabin crew routinely clean the aircraft as part of their everyday duties, the Unite union tells its British Airways members not to clean the aircraft “under any circumstances.”
“It is absolutely imperative that crew DO NOT do any cleaning of seat pockets, crossing seatbelts etc,” the memo continues, although there are rumours that some cabin crew have felt pressure to do exactly that.
In a statement, the airline told us: “We know our cabin crew work extremely hard looking after our customers and understand their rest period between flights is very important.”
“We consulted with our crews during this short trial to advise them not to carry out additional tasks during their downtime between flights. We understand our customer’s value arriving at their destinations on time, that’s why we completed a short trial on one route.”
In fairness, the airline does make a good point – do customers want to arrive at their destination on-time or wait for menial tasks like seatbelt crossing to be completed? It’s an interesting conundrum and one that no doubt many legacy airlines are grappling with as they compete with nimbler low-cost competitors.
The news comes just days after the same union emphatically rejected a pay offer from British Airways that fell far short of what a coalition of unions at the airline had been demanding.
In a strongly worded letter, which was first obtained by Bloomberg, the unions tell BA’s head of Human Resources that airline’s offer is:
“unacceptable in its quantum, unacceptable with respect to the term, unacceptable with respect to bonuses, unacceptable with respect to the lack of commitment to put in place any form of share scheme and unacceptable in excluding some work groups. It reflects the apparent lack of an effective people policy that has prevailed in BA for many years.”
The unions say British Airways is well-prepared to withstand the financial knock from a hard Brexit and is performing well despite “having taken its eye off the ball” when it comes to the passenger experience.
“BA penalises its staff in bonus terms for poor customer feedback scores that largely reflect the Company’s own conscious lack of investment. Staff, for far too long, have been regarded by BA as an unfortunate necessity, as just another line in the accounts.”
The letter, signed by Unite’s Oliver Richardson, John Moore who is the head of industrial relations at pilot union BALPA, and Mick Rix from the GMB union, reiterated their demand for a 5% pay rise for all staff, along with improved profit-sharing bonuses and a share buyback scheme.
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.