Yesterday British Airways announced plans to lay off up to 12,000 employees, which translates to over a quarter of their workforce. This comes as the airline doesn’t see demand for travel fully recovering anytime soon.
British Airways’ largest work group is their flight attendants, so we can expect that many of the job cuts will come from there. British Airways has notified trade unions about a proposed restructuring program, and we now have a sense of what that may look like.
British Airways’ complicated flight attendant structure
At major US airlines, all flight attendants work under a single contract. With few exceptions, any flight attendant can work any flight, and the pay scale is the same for all flight attendants. That’s oh-so-not-the-case with British Airways.
At Heathrow Airport alone, British Airways has three flight attendant contracts (and this doesn’t even consider their separate Gatwick contracts):
- Worldwide Fleet — the higher paid flight attendants operating long haul flights
- Euro Fleet — the higher paid flight attendants operating short haul flights
- Mixed Fleet — the lower paid flight attendants operating both short and long haul flights
I’ve written all about British Airways’ Mixed Fleet in the past:
- British Airways had major labor issues back in 2010
- The airline wanted concessions from flight attendants and they refused, and ended up going on strike for several weeks
- At that point the company formed Mixed Fleet, a new employment contract under which all flight attendants would be hired going forward; these crews are paid significantly less, and generally Mixed Fleet has really high turnover due to poor pay
- A particular flight is either staffed completely with Mixed Fleet, Euro Fleet, or Worldwide Fleet — the crews don’t mix, due to animosity between the senior employees and the Mixed Fleet employees
This is going to get complicated
This is where the situation gets complicated. British Airways needs to lay off flight attendants, so what approach should they take?
- Presumably as much as possible management wants to avoid laying off the lower cost Mixed Fleet employees
- From management’s perspective, eliminating or greatly reducing Mixed Fleet would be a huge step backwards in terms of bargaining power and employment going forward
- At the same time, it seems completely unfair to lay off Euro Fleet and Worldwide Fleet crews, who have been there for decades
British Airways wants to merge contracts
Reports suggest that British Airways is looking to merge flight attendant contracts at Heathrow, going from three separate contracts to just one:
- For any Mixed Fleet employees that aren’t laid off this would no doubt be good news, since I imagine this could only lead to improved conditions and pay
- At the same time, management probably isn’t going to want to give an unprompted pay raise to Mixed Fleet crews that remain at the company
- Euro Fleet and Worldwide Fleet flight attendants are unlikely to want to make significant concessions, or accept Mixed Fleet pay and conditions
- Representation between these groups is different, so bargaining is going to be very complicated
Laying off employees is complicated under the best of circumstances, let alone when you’re British Airways, and have created ridiculously complicated employment contracts over the past decade. This will be a situation to watch…
British Airways will be laying off thousands of cabin crew. Apparently as part of this process, management is hoping to merge and simplify flight attendant contracts. Presumable Mixed Fleet flight attendants are focused on trying to keep their jobs, while Worldwide and Euro Fleet flight attendants are focused on maintaining their pay and conditions.