The boss of the parent company that owns British Airways and the unions that represent some of the 12,000 employees at risk of being made redundant at the airline have finally found some common ground as a June 15 deadline looms ever nearer. British Airways would like to force through a minimum 45-day consultation to clear the path for the mass layoffs but unions have been fighting a battle to make British Airways reconsider its proposals.
While little progress has been made in those negotiations, the two sides have at least found one thing they can agree on – a proposed 14-day quarantine policy being introduced by the British government will devastate the airline industry even more than what the COVID-19 pandemic has already wreaked upon it.
The British government had remained an outlier in countries not imposing any form of travel ban or border restriction throughout the pandemic but that’s set to change in the coming days. Now that the country thinks its got its epidemic under control, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out plans to quarantine all new arrivals by air except for passengers coming from Ireland and France.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) has openly criticised the move, claiming British Airways will now have to reconsider plans to start a “meaningful” return to service in July.
“The Prime Minister’s decision to quarantine people arriving in the UK, by air, and the Health Secretary’s comments that it was unlikely that ‘big, lavish international holidays’ were going to be possible this summer, have seriously set back recovery plans for our industry,” Walsh wrote in a letter to parliament’s transport committee on Thursday.
Walsh had appeared at the committee earlier in the week where he was grilled by lawmakers about the proposed redundancy plan. Many of the members of parliament who quizzed Walsh said they had received hundreds of letters from concerned BA staffers who feared for their livelihoods.
Giving little away, Walsh repeatedly pointed to the fact that he couldn’t comment on the redundancies because the airline was entering into consultations “in good faith” with the “elected representatives” of its employees. The unions, however, have apparently refused to meet with BA and are instead mounting a legal challenge against the proposals.
The BALPA trade union, which represents many of BA’s pilots, has though managed to find something to agree with Walsh on. Brian Strutton, the union’s general secretary said the quarantine plan would “significantly damage the travel and tourism industry and therefore the whole economy.”
“We have seen no evidence that such a blanket policy is needed and would strongly urge the government to move to a targeted and tailored approach according to destination and risk,” he continued.
Yesterday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also came out against quarantine orders, saying their layered approach to biosecurity could facilitate a return to some sort of normality in air travel while giving governments confidence that airlines wouldn’t be importing COVID-19 cases in their country.
While a number of European countries are now considering proposals to lift or ease border restrictions, the United Kingdom has again taken a different unilateral approach to its neighbours. Even before quarantine measures were proposed, Walsh said it could take three years for British Airways to recover from the pandemic.
Any recovery could now take significantly longer – and that could well justify BA’s decision to slash nearly a third of its workforce in little more than a months time.
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.