Thousands of British Airways cabin crew face being sent home without pay if the government’s furlough scheme isn’t extended at the end of September, the airline’s new Customer Director Tom Stevenson has suggested. The warning comes as the travel industry faces a far slower recovery than anyone had imagined, hampered by a chaotic ‘traffic light’ travel restriction system.
Cabin crew and many other BA workers may be forced to take extended periods of unpaid leave or switch to part-time working arrangements once Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s generous furlough scheme finishes in just a few months time.
“Without the furlough scheme to offset some of the wage cost, BA will be looking at ways to reduce that cost, on a temporary basis,” cabin crew were told in a union memo last week. “As we said previously the seat belt signs are being switched on, once again,” the memo continued.
“However, this time, hopefully only for a period of turbulence, rather than the previous extremely bumpy flight, BA2020.”
Last year, British Airways slashed its cabin crew workforce by around a third – a move that seemed drastic at the time and which drew sharp criticism from lawmakers who accused BA of trying to ‘fire and rehire’ its employees on less generous terms and conditions.
But even after dramatically scaling back its workforce there are still believed to be thousands of BA workers reliant on the furlough payroll support programme.
The airline believes it has the right number of staff once some travel restrictions are finally lifted but when that might come remains uncertain. British Airways had been banking on an air corridor between the UK and the United States to help kickstart its recovery but that now seems more uncertain than ever.
Talks between the US and UK governments have allegedly stalled because of a resurgence of cases in Britain that is being driven by the highly infectious Delta variant.
Meanwhile, the aviation and travel industry’s have blasted the UK government over its disastrous ‘traffic light’ system for international travel fearing another “lost summer” for the industry.
The Delta variant is also threatening even tougher restrictions closer to home. German leader Angela Merkel wants the European Union to impose quarantine restrictions on Brits across the bloc. A compromise may restrict access to fully vaccinated travellers.
Perhaps now realising the perilous state the travel industry is in, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament on Wednesday that he hoped the vaccination rollout would finally enable easier international travel.
“What we hope is that the vaccine rollout programme, the double jabs programme, will enable people to start flying and really give that (aviation) industry the prospect of a long-term sustainable recovery,” Johnson told parliament.
Along with lifting travel restrictions, the industry has also called for a sector-specific bailout including an extension to the furlough scheme. That suggestion has been ruled out by the Chancellor.
A spokesperson for British Airways said today: “Like all airlines we continue to review and plan our flying schedule based on temporary travel restrictions, and we are continuously discussing these changes with our colleagues.”
“We urge the UK Government to follow its own risk-based framework to open up more low-risk countries, let vaccinated people travel without restriction and to urgently provide a realistic date for these crucial steps for the industry to work to.”
Photo Credit: British Airways
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.