British Airways is putting thousands of employees back on furlough just weeks after recalling staff members who had been off work for over a year in preparation for what it thought would be a busy summer season and a “meaningful” return to international flying.
The decision by British Airways to once again temporarily reduce its workforce is in sharp contrast to carriers in the United States and rivals in Europe who have seen a surge of bookings as vaccines help unlock travel and tourism across the continent.
The British government only lifted a ban on non-essential international travel on May 17 but its controversial traffic light system classifies most countries as high-risk and requires quarantine on arrival and a series of expensive COVID-19 tests.
The lineup of so-called Green List countries, from which travellers don’t need to quarantine, has been reduced to just 11 countries and most of these are inaccessible to the majority of British holidaymakers.
Government ministers have lined up to tell Brits to stay at home for fear that a dangerous and potentially vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant could be imported from abroad. The Delta variant (which was first described in India) has now become the dominant variant across the UK and is driving a surge in new infections.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for failing to stop flights from India sooner over claims he wanted to secure a trade deal with Indian PM Narendra Modi.
The option to furlough staff is part of a popular wage support scheme in which the British government pays 80 per cent of an employees salary if COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from working.
Senior managers, as well as many workers not directly involved in safety critical tasks will be furloughed as part of a concerted effort to drive down cash burn as passenger numbers once again dwindle.
“Like many companies, we’re using the furlough scheme to protect jobs during this unprecedented crisis,” a spokesperson for British Airways said on Thursday evening.
“However, it’s vital the government follows its risk-based framework to re-open international travel as soon as possible, putting more low-risk countries, like the US, on its green list at the next available opportunity,” a statement from the airline continued.
At the end of April, around 3.43 million jobs were furloughed across the UK but this has been steadily dropping as the economy slowly reopens and is down from a peak of 8.8 million furloughed jobs in May 2020.
The scheme has helped prevent a massive wave of redundancies but campaigners fear unemployment could spike when the scheme ends in September. On Wednesday, Airlines UK which represents British air carriers including BA called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the scheme for airline workers through to April 2022.
British Airways would like to see more countries added to the quarantine-free Green List at the next review on June 23 but hopes of any significant change are starting to fade.
News that the United States and the UK will set up a task force to explore the safe restart of international travel between the two countries has been welcomed but British Airways says it believes travel restrictions should be lifted immediately.
Photo Credit: Heathrow Airport
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.