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As Strike Looms, British Airways Tries to Quell Flyer Ire

The British flag carrier endures chaos as mixed messages, poor customer service and flyer frustration let loose ahead of Pilots’ strike

August 24, 2019

As British Airways prepares to manage a planned pilots’ strike scheduled for September 9, 10, and 27, flyers are fuming over emails sent out saying their flights were cancelled – and then retracting many of those messages later, saying those flights would go on as scheduled. The result has been complete mayhem for the airline, which reported having received some 40,000 phone calls from customers in the first 24 hours of the announcement and email disbursement. The confusion generated some 33,000 angry Tweets during the same time period as customers abandoned the hold loop on the phone to express themselves on Twitter.

The breakdown began Friday when the British Pilots Association, BALPA, announced the strike at British Airways following failed negotiations over pilot wages and salaries. The airline condemned the move and sought an injunction in the British High Court and the Court of Appeal, but eventually lost the case.

The union claimed it would be the first pilots’ strike in the 100-year history of British Airways, although CNN reported the carrier had endured pilot strikes in the 1970s. According to those reports, the planned three days of strikes will likely cost the airline around $147 million, much more than the cost of the salary bumps being requested.

Then it began to take action ahead of the strike by warning flyers and emailing customers with travel plans around the planned strike days. However, it also told customers with flights booked on other days that their flights were cancelled.

The company then admitted Saturday that some passengers were contacted by mistake. All those emailed were asked to rebook or file for a refund. However, many passengers could not get through to customer service and ended up rebooking and changing plans at their own expense – only to then me told through a follow-up email that their original flight plans were still intact. Those who did not receive those follow-up emails are expected to treat their flight plans as cancelled.

On Saturday, British Airways put out a general statement about the strike on its website:

It is completely unacceptable that BALPA is destroying the travel plans of tens of thousands of our customers with this unjustifiable strike action.

BALPA has given us notice that they will strike on September 9th, 10th and 27th. We are extremely sorry that after many months of negotiations, based on a very fair offer, BALPA has decided on this reckless course of action.

We are now making changes to our schedule. We will do everything we can to get as many people away on their journeys as possible. However, it is likely that many of our customers will not be able to travel and we will be offering refunds and re-bookings for passengers booked on cancelled flights.

• Flights on BA CityFlyer, SUN-AIR and Comair are not affected

• We are exploring options to supplement our fleet by using aircraft and crew from other airlines (wet-leasing)

• We are working with our partner airlines to schedule larger aircraft to take the maximum number of customers

Our proposed deal of 11.5 per cent over three years is very fair and well above the UK’s current rate of inflation, and by contrast to BALPA, has been accepted by the members of the Unite and GMB trade unions, which represent nearly 90 per cent of all British Airways colleagues including engineers, cabin crew and ground staff. In addition to basic pay, pilots also receive annual pay increments and regular flying allowances.

We continue to pursue every avenue to find a solution to avoid industrial action and protect our customers’ travel plans.

BA says it carries 145,000 customers every day – with a fleet of more than 280 aircraft – and a BA plane takes off from somewhere in the world every 90 seconds.

As for advice in contending with the upcoming flight stoppage, British Airways recommends requesting a full refund, rebooking flights for another time or using the fare value to fly to a different destination.

Through British law, passengers are entitled to a full refund, and this includes flights in the same journey that might be from a different airline (for example, an onward or return flight). Passengers are entitled to replacement flight to get to their destination. If passengers are part way through their journey and don’t want a replacement flight, they are entitled to a flight back to the airport from which they originally departed. In some cases, passengers may be entitled to additional cash compensation for the inconvenience – but only if you receive notice that your flight is affected less than 14 days before departure.