British Airways says it will abandon short-haul operations from Gatwick Airport and potentially concede its coveted slots to rival easyJet after failing to reach a deal with the BALPA pilots union.
The airline had hoped to start a new ‘low-cost’ subsidiary in a bid to make its perennially loss-making short-haul operation at the West Sussex airport profitable. But on Thursday, British Airways said it would now cut its losses after the BALPA pilots union walked away from talks.
Despite being billed as a new low-cost airline, the subsidiary would have offered the same level of service as other British Airways short-haul flights but the low-cost element came in the form of significantly lower wages for pilots.
Starting wages for pilots at the carrier were planned to be even lower than that at easyJet but the subsidiary would have acted as a route into the mainline carrier where wages and other benefits still remain highly competitive and attractive.
British Airways suspended short-haul flights at Gatwick at the start of the pandemic and temporarily moved many of the flights over to Heathrow for the summer season. The airline must, however, start using its slots at Gatwick or risk losing them.
“With regret, we will now suspend our short-haul operations at Gatwick, with the exception of a small number of domestic services connecting to our long-haul operation, and will pursue alternative uses for the London Gatwick short-haul slots,” a spokesperson confirmed.
The BALPA union wrote at the end of August that it was in the “final stages of negotiations” with British Airways over new pay and conditions for pilots at Gatwick. The union has since suspended a ballot on the proposals.
Acting general secretary Martin Chalk said that despite the union’s “best efforts” it couldn’t reach an agreement with British Airways.
The airline may try to offload its slots to another airline owned by its parent company IAG. Potential suitors include Spanish budget carrier Vueling although the airline has previously failed to make much impact with British consumers.
British Airways could also choose to sell the slots to a rival such as easyJet. Such a deal would make it virtually impossible for British Airways ever to return to Gatwick. The airline will, however, retain profitable long-haul leisure routes from the 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.