British Airways is facing such a severe staffing crunch that it has put a call out to pilots and office-based staff to work as cabin crew for up to two and half months, internal documents detailing the plan reveal.
Pilots and other workers at BA’s CityFlyer subsidiary have been asked to sign up for a programme that the airline has dubbed ‘Take to the Skies’ and which will see them undergo basic cabin crew training and act as stand-ins.
The initiative is highly controversial as British Airways used a similar scheme in 2010 as part of a concerted attempt to break a cabin crew strike in a bitter dispute over pay and conditions. Relations between cabin crew and pilots who crossed the picket line have been strained ever since.
The latest initiative has been sold as a way for employees to “meet new people in the business” and “travel to a wide range of destinations” while getting an insight into “what’s it is really like for our crew to do their job”.
Usually, participants in the programme would only have to fly as cabin crew once every 90 days to keep their licences in check but BA is facing such a severe staffing shortfall that it is asking employees to work full-time as cabin crew through to the end of May.
The stand-in cabin crew could also be asked to step up and work full-time in the future – such as in the event of industrial action.
Cabin crew are currently at loggerheads with BA management over pandemic concessions that have now been made permanent. The airline has so far declined to return benefits like disruption payments and free breakfasts in layover hotels.
Pilots who sign up for the programme will swap their usual clothes for cabin crew uniform but will continue to earn their usual hourly rate. Sources claim pilots have shunned the programme in ‘solidarity with cabin crew’.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for British Airways said the initiative was part of a new cross-business learning programme.
“We are proud to have launched our British Airways colleague learning programme, Discovery, offering colleagues working in head office functions the opportunity to try their hand at an operational role on a temporary basis,” the spokesperson explained.
“Discovery will bring together our various customer support schemes into one, underlining our continued focus on putting our customers at the heart of everything we do, allowing more of the team at British Airways to work directly with our customers and making our operation even more resilient.”
After slashing its workforce at the height of the pandemic and despite a generous government support programme that saw the airline branded a “national disgrace” by lawmakers, British Airways is now in a race to bolster cabin crew numbers ahead of a busy summer season.
The airline is looking to recruit as many as 3,000 cabin crew ahead of the summer and has been offering serving staff an incentive bonus of £300 for convincing friends and family members to sign up for the job.
As an extra incentive, new recruits will get access to deeply discounted concessional travel deal from the moment they start at BA rather than after six months as is usually standard.
Updated with statement from 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.