An informal poll of pilots at Virgin Atlantic has indicated that they would overwhelmingly support going on strike over fatigue-inducing rosters that were agreed upon and implemented at the height of the pandemic when workers feared losing their jobs.
The BALPA pilots union has revealed that 96% of Virgin Atlantic pilots would support a formal strike authorization ballot on the issue and the union has registered a formal trade dispute with the airline over “serious concerns” about pilot fatigue.
The union, which is believed to represent the vast majority of Virgin Atlantic’s 835-strong pilot workforce, agreed to a slew of lifestyle changes, including reduced rest in some overseas destinations and other changes to rostering practices in a bid to help the airline recover from the pandemic.
In a statement, the union told the BBC: “Our members have registered a trade dispute with Virgin Atlantic arising out of serious concerns relating to pilot fatigue and wellbeing around scheduling and rostering arrangements implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
According to the union, 81% of its members took part in the informal poll, a result that it said gave the union an “overwhelming” mandate to pursue the dispute.
Virgin Atlantic has responded by saying it is willing to enter into formal contract negotiations three months earlier in an attempt to resolve the dispute. A spokesperson for the Richard Branson-founded carrier said the BALPA union had been involved in developing the current agreement.
“We continue to honour all agreements and have offered to enter formal pay and lifestyle negotiations with Balpa’s pilot union representatives in the coming weeks, well in advance of the agreement expiring in December,” the airline said in a statement.
There was a very real risk that Virgin Atlantic could have gone into administration at the height of the pandemic, and the airline took drastic action by making around 3,500 employees redundant as it sought shareholder approval for a massive bailout.
In an attempt to save money, the airline has reduced the amount of time pilots and cabin crew spend in some overseas destinations and cut other terms and conditions.
A spokesperson admitted that the airline “underwent a radical transformation” but said the widespread changes were “fundamental to our survival”.
The BALPA union reassured passengers that it was committed to resolving the current disagreement through negotiation and that a walkout would only take place as a last resort.
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.