British Airways Cabin Crew Earn the Cranky Jackass Award For Upcoming Holiday Strike

UPDATE 12/17 @ 853a – The strike is off!

If you’re booked on British Airways for the holidays, you might be kicking yourself right now. The cabin crew (a fancy name for flight attendants) overwhelmingly voted yesterday to strike for a dozen days beginning at the end of this month. This is likely to be very painful for travelers if it happens, and the 06_09_12 jackassflight attendants certainly aren’t getting any sympathy from me. In fact, they get the coveted Cranky Jackass award instead.

The plan is this. Flight attendants expect to begin striking British Airways on December 22 and go for 12 straight days through January 2. Clearly this was planned in order to wait until the busy Hanukkah travel rush ended, but the flight attendants seem to have forgotten about a slightly more widely celebrated holiday called Christmas. And of course, there’s New Years as well.

So nice of them to do it right over the holidays, huh? Could they really not do this in January? Or maybe cut down from the 12 days? I guess not. The union, Unite, has apparently lived up to its name. More than 90% of the flight attendants united and voted in favor of this. Wow.

I spoke with British Airways and asked how they’re planning to deal with this. Spokesperson Michele Kropf said that since this just happened, plans are still being formed. They have, however, been internally preparing since the strike vote was first announced. The first step was for them to waive change fees during the period. If you’re traveling between December 20 and January 4, you’re able to change without penalty for up to 12 months from now. Of course, you’re probably traveling during that time because it’s the holidays, so you don’t exactly have the flexibility. But at least that option is out there.

Michele told me that they are working on their flight schedules now, but nothing has been canceled as of yet. From what I’ve seen (and this didn’t come from BA), these things generally result in at least a portion of the airline continuing to operate. There are always management crews who can step in to help, and sometimes flight attendants cross the line to work. There probably won’t be many of those in this case. History shows us that short haul flights tend to get canceled more because there are better alternates than long hauls. But I would be shocked if they could run their entire long haul schedule. It just isn’t very likely.

If you’d like to put a face on these people, here’s an interview with Len McCluskey, assistant general secretary of Unite. Watch in amazement as he tries to justify striking at Christmas yet still saying he sympathizes with customers.

What’s this fight about anyway? Oh, it’s the usual. BA has been absolutely hemorrhaging during this downturn. That’s what happens when you rely hugely on premium traffic. So, CEO Willie Walsh has proposed some pretty serious cuts in numbers and wages. The flight attendants aren’t happy and they’ve started their “United we stand” campaign. No, I swear this has nothing to do with United.

So why strike now? It appears that they think they need to make their point at the busiest time of the year. Unfortunately for them, that is highly unlikely to get them any sort of sympathy. While I know what they’re going through is difficult, striking during the holidays is simply unconscionable to me. While they might have received some sympathy for a strike during off peak times, a strike during the holidays will only hurt their cause in the public eye.

I wish everyone holding a ticket on British Airways this holiday season good luck. Hopefully this gets settled in the next week and we don’t actually see a strike, but you should be mentally prepared for the worst just in case.

[Updated 12/15 @ 417p to reflect that the comments about historical reactions didn’t come from BA but were rather my own speculation.]

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50 Responses to British Airways Cabin Crew Earn the Cranky Jackass Award For Upcoming Holiday Strike

  1. Axelsarki says:

    BA is already in bad position, losing money, etc., But Christmas & New Year, probably some times that they most make $$, and they strike? This can’t be helping the overall position of the airline…

  2. Ryan says:

    I can’t say I’m surprised to find another anti-labor post on this blog, it seems to be the side you generally land on. Anyway, I think it makes perfect sense to strike during the holidays; now BA is under the gun. The flight schedule needn’t be changed one bit–provided, of course, that BA reach a satisfactory agreement with its workers. Again, I have trouble seeing any problem with this. Let BA solve it if it wants to get its customers to where they’re going.

  3. David SFeastbay says:

    They pick this busy time of the year to push BA into a settlement that the union wants. I’m always amazed that workers in a union forget who they work for. They think they work for the union and the employer (who pays their salary) is the enemy. Isn’t there a saying ‘A company is only as good as their workers.’ The workers will only hurt themselves in the long run. And yes I’ve been in a airline union and saw first hand how workers forget who they work for.

  4. Gabe says:

    This strike makes perfect sense for the Cabin Crew (that’s what they are called in Britain, not fancy). BA started this conflict over two years ago with schemes such as come to work, but no pay. BA is now dealing with consequences of strained labor relations started by them. As was once posted on a Virgin Airlines billboard in London. “Absolute BA, fly Virgin”

  5. Doug Swalen says:

    Well it seems like the union, rightly or wrongly, thinks its in the fight of its life with BA given these proposed cuts, so they really don’t have anything to lose by striking the airline where it’ll hurt most, during the holidays. How the public feels seems pertinent on its face but is ultimately irrelevant when your livelihood is at stake. You do what you gotta do.

    I can see arguments on both sides of the issue. From the union’s perspective, why should they take it on the chin for horrid management decisions (the above mentioned “BA has been absolutely hemorrhaging during this downturn. That’s what happens when you rely hugely on premium traffic”)? They didn’t tell BA to take a roll of the dice by gambling on premium traffic levels remaining strong.

    On the other hand, strikes of a pre-determined length are an impotent weapon. The whole purpose of a strike is to bring management closer to the union’s position by bringing the company to a crawl. This planned strike is more like a pro wrestling match, pretend to pin the opponent and then when the ref gets to 2 in the count, lift his head off the mat. It’s a show strike. Sure it’ll disrupt BA’s service but because BA knows when it will end it can make better adjustments than it could if the strike was open ended. In the end it just makes BA’s cash pot smaller which in turn comes back to hurt the union’s employees because there’ll be even less money for BA to spread out to the very employees who are striking.

  6. JM says:

    I am pro-union in general, but think this is a bad move. This is anti-customer.

    At a minimum, the union’s actions play into the hands of those who would like to see all unions killed off.

    Revenue is already flying out the door. Even if the strike is averted through some last minute deal, the bookings that BA will lose over this are going to bleed the company financially.

    A friend of mine who is an agent for 5 star travel with a national firm told me last night that their company has already internally requested all of their agents to stop booking BA period until this matter is resolved.

    This has shades of Eastern Airlines to it. If BA winds up tanking in full or in receivership of some sort, the union will get the blame.

    Who came up with this plan? Charlie Bryan and the International Association of Machinists’ local in Miami?

  7. Holidays and other busy buying periods make perfect sense for unions. It’s not customer friendly but it hurts the company the most and it gains the most publicity, plain and simple.

    Who wants to strike in February when there’s nothing going on, nothing at stake and nobody really cares? Not the most visible way to get the message out, is it? Strikes that are convenient for the company and have the least impact on the customer base do not have the same impact and therefore might as well not happen at all.

    Am I pro-union? No. Do I support the holiday strike? No. Do I understand the logistics behind it? Completely.

    The question I have is for Cranky Concierge and that is how does the service assist passengers exposed to industrial actions such as this?

  8. frank says:

    So why strike now? It appears that they think they need to make their point at the busiest time of the year. Unfortunately for them, that is highly unlikely to get them any sort of sympathy. While I know what they’re going through is difficult, striking during the holidays is simply unconscionable to me.
    ==========================================

    Who cares about YOUR sympathy! You dont care about an F/A’s working conditions, pay, benefits, etc. Yet, the company will “negotiate” concessions as a way to reach a favorable agreement for them. Striking during the holidays is a negotiating tactic for it’s Union members. Unfortunately, the PASSENGER is caught in between.
    Yeah, they may not make their holiday trip, but a flight attendant may have to work under these conditions (which 90 PERCENT SAY NO).

    Unite has denounced BA’s attempt to impose significant contractural changes on its 14,000 cabin crew employees, and introduce a second tier workforce on poorer pay and conditions.

    Unite believes the new contractural changes are an attempt to force staff to pay the price for management failings with the company wringing more and more out of fewer and fewer staff who will be paid less.

    Working hours will be extended, crew levels will be slashed, career opportunities will disappear and new starters will be brought in on bargain basement wages.
    ================================================

    All I can say is, GOOD LUCK, BA flight attendants. In this country, you have commuter pilots making poverty wages. It’s not even a six figure salary anymore for pilots at some of the majors now. Pensions gone. Havent had raises in yearssssssss. Working understaffed. And, when it’s time to negotiate a contract, the company drags it’s feet for years.
    My contract has been taken back to 1980 levels and you better believe I will follow in the tracks of my BA colleagues.

  9. CF says:

    Ryan wrote:

    I can’t say I’m surprised to find another anti-labor post on this blog, it seems to be the side you generally land on.

    I fully expected to get comments like this, but I really don’t see it that way. My position in this case is staunchly pro-consumer and has nothing to do with labor or management. Labor is the one who pulled the trigger, so they’re the ones who get the wrath. You suggest that BA could end this by offering a fair proposal, but that assumes that the flight attendants are going to settle for a fair proposal. It’s not nearly as simple as you make it sound.

    The Traveling Optimist wrote:

    Who wants to strike in February when there’s nothing going on, nothing at stake and nobody really cares?

    Not true at all. While there isn’t a ton of leisure travel during that time, there is certainly a fair amount of business travel and that’s BA’s bread and butter. You strike in January or February and you hurt BA the most instead of hurting the consumer. There is usually enough slack on various airlines to reaccommodate passengers during that time. So you find other airlines getting a golden opportunity to woo BA high value customers with their offerings. It would have a major impact on BA at that time without being nearly as harmful toward customers.

    The Traveling Optimist wrote:

    The question I have is for Cranky Concierge and that is how does the service assist passengers exposed to industrial actions such as this?

    Well, we do what we can. I’ve had one person sign up today for the service, and our job will be to keep that person up to date on things as they happen. So for now, I’ll alert the client that if his travel can be changed, he should consider doing it because BA isn’t charging a change fee. Otherwise, I will keep him up to date on if his flight gets canceled or if BA starts allowing refunds. Ultimately, if his flight is canceled, I will do what I can to find another flight, but it’s a very busy time and that can’t be guaranteed.

  10. Timothy says:

    The truth of the matter is this: The LCC has now come into it’s own, with the ability to service customers with newer and younger fleets, basic service onboard many of which you pay extra for, and with less crew.

    Legacy carriers such as BA, KL, AA, US, AF, and DL are a relic from the past, and will now have to redesign their cost structures in order to meet the demands of today’s traveling public, who have now become quite used to the ability to shop their airfares, as well as the reduced amenities in-flight.

    Unfortunately this will come at a cost for both the airline and it’s employee’s with lower yields for the company and less lucrative contracts for staff. The way I see it, BA is doing what it has to do to lower spending, manage it’s yields, and retain it’s business. The cabin crew are doing what they have to do to protect their contract, as well as their quality of life.

    There is a halfway point in their somewhere, and they better find it or the truth is, they’ll (BA and it’s employees) will be in a lose-lose situation.

    Seems too many ego’s are at play in this venture, and the public are being held captive in the middle.

    These are sad times for our industry. :-(

  11. Ryan says:

    CF wrote:

    Labor is the one who pulled the trigger, so they’re the ones who get the wrath. You suggest that BA could end this by offering a fair proposal, but that assumes that the flight attendants are going to settle for a fair proposal. It’s not nearly as simple as you make it sound.

    It’s very easy to assert that “labor pulled the trigger,” Cranky, but it ignores the fact that BA management has attempted to exact some outrageous cuts from their employees. If the workers have decided to strike to reach a more reasonable agreement–and I do stress the point that you equally assume that they WON’T accept a fair proposal–one can just as easily point the finger at poor management decisions. Also, I do resent that you expected “posts like this,” whatever that essentializing term is supposed to mean; I’m quite a big fan of the blog, and I’ve simply noticed that you tend to come down heavily on the side of management in such situation.

  12. A says:

    frank wrote:

    You dont care about an F/A’s working conditions, pay, benefits, etc.

    I work in a field that provides a professional service to clients (architectural design/construction). Completely different than the airline buiz, but arguably more hard hit in this economy. The little work that our clients are offering us does come with demands of much lower fees. That has put huge pressure on pay and benefits, with most (including myself) learning to live on much less. Sound familiar?

    Does anyone “care” about me? I’m just happy to still have a job as many in my field do not. Sure, it would be nice if clients were giving us more work and willing to pay higher fees for it so I could have my old pay and benefits back, just as I’m sure it would be nice if the airlines were able to charge higher ticket prices and still fill up to capacity.

    Things change and businesses and their employees need to adapt. It would be nice it unions in general were able to accept that. Unfortunately the BA “Cabin Crew” actions hasn’t changed my opinion of unions in the least.

  13. Joel P. says:

    I’m booked on AA from ORD-Munich via LHR. the LHR-MUC leg is on 12/28 and is operated by BA. Am I at a further disadvantage since it wasn’t booked through BA? What should I do now?

  14. enplaned says:

    @Ryan — “It’s very easy to assert that “labor pulled the trigger,” Cranky, but it ignores the fact that BA management has attempted to exact some outrageous cuts from their employees.”

    BA is in terrible trouble. It needs to cut costs. If management made mistakes, it should be canned, but costs still need to be cut. What alternative would you suggest?

  15. Ryan says:

    enplaned wrote:

    @Ryan–
    BA is in terrible trouble. It needs to cut costs. If management made mistakes, it should be canned, but costs still need to be cut. What alternative would you suggest?

    I fully understand that BA needs to cut costs, but there are ways to go about it witjout effectively creating a two-tier work force. AA pulled it off and averted a strike (for now at least, don’t hold me to that a few months from now); BA should be able to do it too.

  16. Allan says:

    I support workers rights and all but a strike over the Holidays is despicable at best, pure evil at worst. This is a time of year that many families get their only chance to see each other. The idea that travelers will be stranded and denied the one occasion that they can reunite with family is immoral and wrong.

    If it helps families get together I would be willing to offer my services to BA for free. I will gladly spend a flight from London to JFK taking food from the cart and placing it on a tray; mixing cocktails; telling anyone who will listen that their seat cushion is a flotation device/fart container and making sure passengers know that I resent their very existence. Isn’t this the gist of what most flight crews do?

  17. coldtusker says:

    Labor does NOT want to put their capital at risk yet benefit from the ups (& not the downs) of any business.

    In the airline industry (esp like BA) where travel is global, you have to compete with lower pay elsewhere. The China Effect.

    A living wage makes sense but a FA at Emirates or Kenya Airways or Aeroflot would salivate at what BA’s FAs make.

    The loss of revenue/profits as well as loss of FUTURE business is going to force BA to make larger cuts in 2010 & 2011. Unless the British Govt comes up with a financial rescue package. In the meantime, RyanAir & VA will continue growing its market share.

  18. Drew says:

    The interesting thing for me here – as a 5-times a year TATL passenger – is that Virgin, I understand, made similar cuts to BA earlier this year without a peep from their cabin crew – one less crew member in Upper Class, overall redundancies and asking their FAs to do more per flight. The FAs I spoke to on my last flight weren’t happy – and quite vocal about it – but no strike.

    According to the BBC, Virgin also pay about GBP16,000 p/a to their (relatively young) cabin crew, while BA pay GBP30,0000 to their (relatively old) cabin crew.

    I wonder if BA is now in a similar situation to US airlines a decade back – large network, unionised and senior crew, huge fixed cost base compared to the like of Easyjet (short-haul) and Virgin (long-haul).

    Given that we don’t have the equivalent of Chapter 11 here in the UK – so no way to negotiate a new beginning – is it the management win or BA goes bust?

  19. Daren S says:

    WOW, this post has certainly stirred things up! Well done CF. All I can say is that BA has been waiting a long time for this strike. Let’s face it, it has been brewing for a ages. I believe they are ready for it and are almost relishing it. There are far too many crew who have been there since the good old days of public ownership who are on unsustainable terms and conditions, particularly in these lean times. Willie Walsh has made it pretty clear that he wants most of the crew to be young, cheap and willing to trade earnings for an opportunity to travel for a few years and then move on. At present there are too many on the other end of the scale who are old, expensive and have huge pension liabilities. In the world we live in today this is simply uneconomic.

  20. Neil S says:

    I’m with CF on this.

    Unions – all, not just airline – don’t seem to understand that we’re having a bit of an economic slowdown.

    I work in an industry – marketing – where clients push fees down, and salaries get cut, and raises go away, and bonuses don’t happen. And I can either wait it out or look for another job.

    This constant drumbeat of we won’t take cuts and we must have raises and management is stupid is just not logical.

    Blame BA management all you want. They had a strategy, based on premium travel and a great Club World product, and they made plenty of money – until business travel stopped.

    Unite and WW need to grow up, sit down, and work it out.

    Signed, Likely not getting to LHR on 12/24 without a miracle.

  21. CF says:

    Ryan wrote:

    It’s very easy to assert that “labor pulled the trigger,” Cranky, but it ignores the fact that BA management has attempted to exact some outrageous cuts from their employees.

    It doesn’t ignore that at all. In fact, it’s not really my point. I’m not even touching on whether the union should accept the deal or strike or not. I’m simply saying here that they are making a mistake by striking during the holidays. That’s it.

    Also, I do resent that you expected “posts like this,” whatever that essentializing term is supposed to mean; I’m quite a big fan of the blog, and I’ve simply noticed that you tend to come down heavily on the side of management in such situation.

    No offense intended. I expected there to be outrage that I would come down so hard on the flight attendants – that’s what I meant by it. But I absolutely stand by my statement. I’d go back and review some of my previous posts, in particular you can look at United. I’ve actually been pretty strongly in favor of labor’s position in the United pilot discussions. In this case, however, it’s just a single issue. Striking over the holidays sucks.

    Joel P. wrote:

    I’m booked on AA from ORD-Munich via LHR. the LHR-MUC leg is on 12/28 and is operated by BA. Am I at a further disadvantage since it wasn’t booked through BA? What should I do now?

    You aren’t at a disadvantage. If anything, you might get lucky if American is willing to do something for you. I was see if AA would be willing to put you on Iberia through Madrid. My guess is that they won’t be making changes just yet, but it can’t hurt to try.

    Drew wrote:

    I wonder if BA is now in a similar situation to US airlines a decade back – large network, unionised and senior crew, huge fixed cost base compared to the like of Easyjet (short-haul) and Virgin (long-haul).
    Given that we don’t have the equivalent of Chapter 11 here in the UK – so no way to negotiate a new beginning – is it the management win or BA goes bust?

    Well, there’s always the chance of a govt bailout, though that would probably not go over very well. BA announced its pension obligation continues to balloon, so that’s something that will need to be addressed as well. It is pretty ugly for BA these days.

  22. Allan wrote:

    If it helps families get together I would be willing to offer my services to BA for free. I will gladly spend a flight from London to JFK taking food from the cart and placing it on a tray; mixing cocktails; telling anyone who will listen that their seat cushion is a flotation device/fart container and making sure passengers know that I resent their very existence. Isn’t this the gist of what most flight crews do?

    I’m unsure if this is sarcasm, but Cabin Crews/Flight Attendants are there for two reasons:
    1. Keep order in the cabin.
    2. Make sure that in the event of an emergency you’re taken care of. Everything else is just fluff.

    I think my boyfriend is the person cranky referred to above. He’s visiting family. His plans aren’t really that flexible, and having this strike now sucks.

    How much more respect could BA’s workers have gotten with informational picketing during this time. “We’d be on strike, but we put our customers before kicking management in the balls, so we’re making sure you’re safe, but we’re here under protest.” That’d be the way to go, then strike in January or something.

  23. PeteyNice says:

    So the head of BA gets a 6% raise but the rank and file get deep cuts? Yeah, that’s fair. Go Cabin Crews. BA clearly deserves it.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jun/10/willie-walsh-ba-pay-rise

    [quote]
    Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, pocketed an inflation busting 6% pay rise last year, despite the airline last month posting its largest ever loss and planning thousands more job losses.
    [/quote]

    Once something gets taken away, it never comes back.

  24. robert says:

    As hinted in earlier posts, BA’s real problem is their baseline costs are higher than most other large airlines (for historical reasons). They have to reduce it to survive – even more so in the current climate.

    I’d be careful about wishing BA would collapse and be resurrected in some low-cost format like Ryanair. For me when flying long-haul, part of the experience is not being treated like cattle in a bargain-basement, barely adequate conditions model. Not everyone wants their airlines to be like that.

    BTW the UK does have an equivalent of US “Chapter 11”. It’s called being “in administration” where the company can still trade.

  25. Drew says:

    robert wrote:

    BTW the UK does have an equivalent of US “Chapter 11?. It’s called being “in administration” where the company can still trade.

    Robert,

    Agree with what you say about the baseline costs; I don’t think anyone wants BA to collapse/turn into a LCC (has that been suggested?), but they do need to change to avoid being the proverbial “pension fund with wings”.

    WRT to Chapter 11 thing, there are very big differences between being in administration and chapter 11. This isn’t the time or place to discuss legal and contractual differences, but while both legal codes indeed allow firms to continue to trade, the UK would not allow “debtor-in-possession” financing, so any extra funding could only be raised from existing creditors (rather than by issuing new senior debt), and also the entire management team would be replaced by the administrator.

    BA management are therefore far more unlikely to put BA into administration than their US equivalents were in 2001, as not only will it more likely lead to eventual bankruptcy, but they will all immediately loose their jobs. Hence, while in the US it is in the interest of management to threaten unions with Chapter 11, in the UK it is far more in the interest of unions to threaten management with administration – whether that is right or wrong is the subject of another debate….

    Cheers

    Drew

  26. Allan says:

    @ Nicholas Barnard:

    Dear Nicholas:

    You are correct, I was being a bit sarcastic; however, you kind of make my point but a bit more eloquently. I travel a lot and you are correct, flight crews are constantly reminding us that they are really only there for our safety and not really our comfort or enjoyment. Since, thankfully, airline travel is extremely safe compared to other modes of travel, if safety is really their only responsibility they are grossly overpaid and should be making minimum wage since on 99.9% of worldwide flights everyday everything goes smoothly. We just don’t hear about it.

  27. Bobber says:

    I don’t really give a sh1t about BA, but obviously wouldn’t wish redundancies on anyway. The company has been poorly managed, and no doubt there is a lot of injustice felt by the workforce when the consequence of them working days for free is felt deeply, whilst such a ‘sacrifice’ for upper management barely dents their income at all.

    However, since 1996, BA has posted 3 annual losses (net). Admittedly, last year was a biggy, as will this years (probably), but they’ve still made sh1tloads more of cash than they’ve lost. Perhaps it might have been mildly prudent to properly invest it, and perhaps take care of their pensions blackhole, rather than p1ss it all away to the shareholders.

    What a commie I must be…….

  28. robert says:

    There is still the question of what BA’s strategy should be. Should it continue to (try to) be all things to all people or concentrate on the high-end market (once the economy recovers)? I remember it tried the latter some years ago and wasn’t entirely successful. Then again, how can it compete with LCCs – if one or more LCCs started flying transatlantic, would they be finished?

    In a similar vein, is this something all legacy carriers have to worry about? Are many or all of their strategies ultimately unsustainable in the market and they’re only still in business due to restrictive practices of countries wanting to protect their flag carriers. I also remember that someone once suggested that eventually there would only be three European carriers: BA, Lufthansa and Air France – and all the others would be subsidiaries of those three.

  29. Potcake says:

    IIRC, President (GW) Bush headed off several airline strikes by executive order. Does the British government have anything similar that it can do to keep BA flying?

  30. CF says:

    robert wrote:

    In a similar vein, is this something all legacy carriers have to worry about? Are many or all of their strategies ultimately unsustainable in the market and they’re only still in business due to restrictive practices of countries wanting to protect their flag carriers. I also remember that someone once suggested that eventually there would only be three European carriers: BA, Lufthansa and Air France – and all the others would be subsidiaries of those three.

    I think there’s definitely a need for hub and spoke carriers to serve much of the world, and the ever-strengthening alliances make that much more difficult for another carrier to start up. Try to replicate the breadth and depth of the route network of some of these guys – I would be amazed if it could be done.

    Potcake wrote:

    IIRC, President (GW) Bush headed off several airline strikes by executive order. Does the British government have anything similar that it can do to keep BA flying?

    Do you mean HW? He did step in with his Presidential Emergency Board. I don’t know if that exists in the UK.

  31. frank says:

    @ A:

    you forget that HALF THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY was in bankruptcy court just several years ago. Pensions terminated. Pay slashed by 20 PERCENT. Benefits covered more by employee contributions. Vacations slashed. Working longer days, shorter nights.

    My comment was in regard to CF’s sympathy card. I already know what the flying public thinks about me, my job, my pay, etc. It’s been discussed ad naseum on the internet. Hence, my remark. You dont care…..you dont. I KNOW THAT. And, I dont need your SYMPATHY.

  32. AStabAtEmpathy says:

    Ryan wrote:

    enplaned wrote:
    I fully understand that BA needs to cut costs, but there are ways to go about it witjout effectively creating a two-tier work force. AA pulled it off and averted a strike (for now at least, don’t hold me to that a few months from now); BA should be able to do it too.

    That’s just not true! It was AA that first implemented a two tier system – one of the first and probably the most important strategic decision Crandell pushed through in the late ’70s after deregulation. The unions at Eastern, United, etc. weren’t willing to follow suit, putting their airlines into a competitive disadvantage that they never recovered from (bankruptcy ultimately was needed to break the unions’ clout at all of those carriers). BA would be a very smart first mover among the legacy carriers in Europe to institute a two tier system; it would create a huge headache for Lufthansa (which just committed itself to a one-tier pay structure), not to mention Air France… For existing union members, its the ONLY way to preserve their living standards in a deregulated environment with low cost competitors. The AA unions back in the 70s were prescient about that fact. If BA unions had any sense, they’d take in that history lesson. Alas, it appears they won’t, so history is bound to repeat itself. Read up on how that went for Eastern et al.

  33. February was not meant to be a catch-all in terms of “nothing going on” but it is also hardly the time of the year when airlines make any real money.

    Europeans largely go on holiday in August. What little fun-and-sun traffic there may be in February, if it hasn’t already been soaked up by Thomas Cook, easyjet and Air Berlin, is hardly the kind of high-yield market to keep BA afloat. Otherwise, leisure travel doesn’t pick up to seriously profitable numbers until May/June.

    The few suits that go anywhere in February or any other time of year have options and maximum flexibility given the types of fares they tend to purchase. They lose nothing in transferring to other oneworld carriers who cover nearly all bases (AA, JL, CX, QF, IB). The Middle East and Australian business isn’t as good as it used to be revenue-wise, either. See Emirates.

    Leisure and holiday traffic are far more restricted and have fewer options. Short of any re-accommodation courtesy offered by BA there simply aren’t as many options. Now, add a lousy global economy to both markets and I hear a lot of echoes down the aisles of empty widebodies or baseline yields at best on the few that are full.

    What season gets the most visibility after the summer rush? Christmas. What better time of year to make a stand than when “everybody” absolutely, positively has to get somewhere.

    The blessing in this sad state of affairs is that, being British, it is not a wildcat strike (see Air France). Advance notice has gone out with time for most travelers to make alternate arrangements. It is inconvenient, annoying and frustrating for all concerned, true enough, but tell the Grinches of the world that Christmas is not cancelled.

    Life goes on, so pass the Who Pudding and Rare Who Roast Beast.

  34. Michael Parker says:

    Did I read that LGW crews have already agreed to a lot of this? If so, what’s to stop BA moving a lot of ops over there (the airport has quite a bit of spare capacity)?

    Two-tier workforces are now definitely a fact of life – the organisation I am in now has _three_ tiers for its pension scheme, based on when people joined. There is very little sympathy for these workers, just as there is little sympathy for London Underground staff who strike over pay despite having comfortable salaries and massive holidays.

    Anyway, interesting as this labour v management debate is, can we do some long-term “what if” planning for fun?

    Let’s assume BA have to dramatically shrink and there’s no government bailout. What happens at LHR? Oneworld move into T5? Dramatic fall in long haul traffic leads to loss of connecting traffic with knock on effect to other airlines? No third runway?

  35. CF says:

    Michael Parker wrote:

    If so, what’s to stop BA moving a lot of ops over there (the airport has quite a bit of spare capacity)?

    People want to go out of Heathrow, and they’ve shown that’s the airport to be at. Besides, BA has created a much better premium experience at Heathrow than they could offer at Gatwick these days.

    I don’t think we’ll see BA shrink a ton – the demand in London is there so the third runway will be needed no matter what happens.

  36. robert says:

    I don’t think moving anything substantive to Gatwick is an option is it only has one runway.

  37. David SFeastbay says:

    When it comes to times like this people only hear about the pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics crying over cuts in pay and benefits. But no one ever thinks about all the other employees at an airline not covered by a contract. They get their pay and benefits cuts as soon as management decides to do it. They make less money then the cabin crews and mechanics so it hurts them even more. Their cuts will pay for any new contracts for the unionized workers but their fellow co-workers will not care about that or them.

    Laws protect how long a flight crew can work, but those non-contracted workers can have their shifts frozen and they have to keep working (I’ve been there/done that) after their normal shift, and can be fired if they don’t. But the contracted workers could care less. One problem airlines have is not treating all employees the same, but due the union contracts they can’t. But it will always be the same, the non-contract workers will always pay so the contract workers can get more pay.

    And from working at an airline with a two-tier pay scale, I can tell you that the workers at the lower pay did more work and had better attitudes then those at the higher level. Those were the older workers who didn’t lift a finger to do anything they didn’t have to, were usually at the high end of the pay scale so knew they would not get any more money, and were only there until they could retire. They may have had some great stories about the ‘good old days’ of the business, but other then that they were a depressing bunch to be around.

  38. bellsmyre says:

    Turkeys voting for Christmas.

  39. Zach says:

    I happen to be in Switzerland on vacation as all of this unfolds, and it is obviously huge news here in Europe.

    As others have noted similarly, I have not had a bonus in two years, and my salary has been cut. These are the times we live in. Things will improve. The difference between people like us and people like those working for BA is the fact that we don`t have over a million customers to utterly screw as self-administered therapy for what we may view to be a raw deal in tough economic times.

    Awful.

  40. frank says:

    Zach
    December 16th, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    I happen to be in Switzerland on vacation as all of this unfolds, and it is obviously huge news here in Europe.
    ==============================================

    Pending labor problems had to be in the news for months and months, yet, people BOOKED BA knowing that.

  41. robert says:

    > Pending labor problems had to be in the news for months and months, yet, people BOOKED BA knowing that.

    You could say that about any/every airline most of the time.

  42. robert says:

    Strike has been called off after being declared illegal by the High Court:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8418805.stm

  43. CF says:

    robert wrote:

    Strike has been called off after being declared illegal by the High Court:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8418805.stm

    Huzzah!

  44. Ron says:

    Very elegant way out of the problem — call off the strike on a technicality. This should provide a graceful route towards de-escalation, if both parties are interested.

  45. Potcake says:

    Still a chance for Blue Flu– if enough of the cabin crews participate in a sick-in it could still screw things up for the holidays.

  46. Simon says:

    Ron wrote:

    Very elegant way out of the problem — call off the strike on a technicality. This should provide a graceful route towards de-escalation, if both parties are interested.

    This is not an elegant backing down – the union is livid about this. They have been made to cancel the strike because they didn’t follow the rules required for holding a ballot. A new ballot will follow, will presumably give a similar result, and we may get the (much discussed upthread) February strike after all.

  47. Ron says:

    Simon — I didn’t say elegant backing down, I said elegant way out. The court just handed the parties a way to avert the strike without either party having to back down. Hopefully this will have a positive effect on continued negotiations.

  48. Unite trade union leaders representing BA cabin crew are yelling that being told by the High Court that they can’t strike is a “disgraceful day” for democracy. That’s humbug! By declaring their ballot illegal the court did them a favour. More:

    http://paulseaman.eu/2009/12/ba-and-its-union-caught-in-their-own-traps/

  49. Chris says:

    It is extremely ironic that unions everywhere appear to think that by interrupting the revenue stream, their employer will somehow discover a huge pile of cash and realize that, in fact, they can actually afford to keep all of those staff and their salaries in place. Its like they still believe in Santa.

  50. Simon says:

    Ron wrote:

    Simon — I didn’t say elegant backing down, I said elegant way out.

    Apologies – I read your post too fast. While I also hope that there will be no need for a further ballot, I fear that a strike in the new year remains inevitable.

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