A leading union that represents British Airways ground staff at Heathrow Airport has warned that last week’s operational meltdown which left tens of thousands of passengers stranded is “just the tip of the iceberg” and that passengers should fear a “summer of chaos”.
The meltdown was caused by a massive IT crash which the GMB union blames on BA’s decision to outsource its technical support to India in 2016. British Airways suffered a huge IT failure in 2017, had its systems hacked a year later and still hasn’t said what the cause of the latest meltdown was.
Last week, British Airways staff were spat at and subjected to vile homophobic abuse, while others were forced to remove their uniforms to escape Heathrow without being mobbed by angry passengers, the union’s national officer Nadine Houghton claims.
Staff were left to tell disabled passengers that they would have to sleep in the airport after hundreds of flights were cancelled with little warning and watch as distraught parents put their babies to sleep on luggage.
“Morale is at an all-time low after BA’s shameful attack on workers during the pandemic,” Houghton blasted on Monday. “BA is recruiting staff on to some of the lowest wages at Heathrow. Recruitment and retention is an issue that many fear will not be resolved in time for the peak season.”
Houghton has called on BA chief executive Sean Doyle “to walk a mile” in the shoes of front line staffers who were subjected to abuse last week.
British Airways has offered a one-time payment to workers whose pay and conditions were slashed during the pandemic. The union says this bonus will do little to “paper over the cracks”.
The offer has been rejected by customer service agents and an industrial dispute is now on the cards.
BA’s notoriously temperamental IT systems suffered a near-complete outage for over five hours on Friday evening but the issues rolled over to Saturday leading to the decision by BA to wipe its entire short-haul schedule.
British Airways admitted that it had let its customers down and in a statement, a spokesperson commented: “We are sorry to our customers, it’s been a very difficult week and we can only apologise for any further disruption they may experience this evening.
“We are doing all we can to ensure that we provide up to date information about what is going on.”
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.