British Airways’ Complicated Plan To Simplify Cabin Crew Contracts

Filed Under: British Airways

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…

Bottom line

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.

  1. So…BA will be hoping that after they fire 25% of their flight attendants, the remaining 75% show up to work with crappier contracts?

    Laughable, in a very unfunny way.

  2. Don’t expect anything good to come out of this with Alex Cruz at the top… his lack of business acumen has become more and more obvious in recent years

  3. This makes total sense.

    Pay and conditions across all contracts are now a bargaining chip against redundancies. Crews are in a position to take it, or take off… BA have the negotiating upper hand.

  4. Not sure how bankruptcy works in the UK, but if this was a US based airline, their best bet (for the company) would be a Chapter 11 filing followed by a single (concessionary) contract put in place by a bankruptcy judge. Of course this would not be a good outcome at all for the flight attendants.

  5. I agree with Josh. That announcement yesterday was pretty shrewd. They are now in total control of the outcome, with the unions having little bargaining power right now. Strike? Go ahead, lol. Bankruptcy? Fine, we will reorganize and force new contracts – or you can leave.

    Add to that the possibility of Virgin Atlantic going into liquidation and BA might actually come out of this much stronger. However, in three years when they are rolling in cash again those workers will regain strength and bargaining power and there will be significant union problems and job actions taking place.

  6. “the crews don’t mix, due to animosity between the senior employees and the Mixed Fleet employees”

    That may have been the case initially, several years ago, but it isn’t now.

    One of the reasons that flights aren’t served by staff from the different fleets is because of the difefrent contracts not because they don’t like each other. They all receive the same training in service and safety. It was BAs decision to keep them separate.

    The issue is the fleets have different terms and conditions such as how many nights they get to spend down route and that causes rostering problems.

    Cabin crew in the main fly the same out and inbound services. if you roster half from one fleet and half from another then that just causes complications.

  7. Unfortunately the British Airways passenger especially frequent flyers will be the losers too . British Airways industrial relations is a perfect example of how not to treat staff but management never learn . Everything is geared to producing large profits for institutional investors such as Qatar Airways but never for their staff or frequent flyers . Frequent flyers and premium passengers are what makes British Airways so profitable , ignore them and they choose another airline/alliance .

    KLM have a totally different approach a much fairer way of running an airline and as a result retain excellent experienced crew who feel valued . Perhaps the Covid 19 pandemic should have taught Governments and Management in companies such as BA that screwing the last drop of profit out of everyone and everything doesn’t have a good ending

  8. It looks so simple for management. Keep the mixed fleet. Reduce the rest. They asked for it back in 2010, they get the consequences in 2020.

    You want to keep more, then the government needs to hand out some money.

  9. It’s actually not complicated at all. This has been BA’s plan since the inception of Mixed Fleet ten years ago. They just waited for ‘the perfect storm’. Which is now. With the bulk of the fleet grounded and a gloomy outlook. What are the unions going to do if they don’t like the options put forward? Go on strike and ground a few jets? Ha!

    The biggest difference between the two crew groups (apart from pay T&C’s) is the different working ethos. Crew on the legacy contracts tended to join the role when Cabin Crew was a ‘career’. Airlines valued long serving loyal staff and many BA Cabin Crew come from ‘BA families’. Parents that were cabin or cockpit crew, siblings that also work for the airline. Easyjet and Ryanair were yet to have any real impact on BA’s short haul routes. Emirates was a shadow of the carrier it is today and Etihad and Qatar hadn’t even taken to the skies. The legacy cabin crew had a very seniority driven way of doing things. You could apply for promotion when you were senior enough. You chose where to work on the aircraft according to your seniority (still the case). There is no real competitive environment, no performance bonuses etc.

    Enter Mixed Fleet. BA realised that in todays global business world loyalty means nothing and cost everything. Those legacy crew kept wanting more and more money as they moved on from their 20’s into their 30’s and wanted to buy homes. Many of them availed of long periods of maternity and paternity leave as they started families. BA much preferred the idea of cheaper, more disposable crew. The ‘Mixed Fleet model’ is more performance based. Promotion is down to how hard you work (or some will say who you f*ck) and seniority does not exist. Bonuses are rapid depending on your annual performance. The pay and terms and conditions meant the role predominantly attracted a younger workforce looking to do the job for a couple years before finding a ‘real job’.

    Obviously with the two very different ways of working it would have been incredibly hard to have the two groups working together.

    But now, the two groups will be working together. It was always thought that the legacy fleets would simply merge into Mixed Fleet. This is not the case.

    And this is why I disagree with Lucky where he says ‘for any mixed fleet employees that aren’t laid off this will no doubt be good news, since I imagine this will only lead to improved conditions and pay’. NOT a chance. Knowing the BA beast and knowing it well if it can take an opportunistic chance to dilute even modest T&C’s they will. Fact is, even Mixed Fleet is to expensive in BA’s eyes. Hence why they simply aren’t merging Worldwide and eurofleet into Mixed Fleet and instead creating a new fleet. Mixed Fleet still enjoys some perks that many other airlines don’t. Double nights in certain destinations for example even where there is a daily flight. Rumour has it all this will go. Employment contract law also works differently in the UK. A company can not just tear up your contract and issue you with a new one. Well unless it wants to end up in a tribunal. It CAN issue notice of a change to T&C’s. But in terms of basic pay, the various crew groups will likely take their own with them.

    ‘Representation between these groups is different so bargaining is going to be very complicated’. Yes and no. The legacy fleets belong to BASSA. In turn, BASSA belongs to Unite the union. Mixed Fleet belong to ‘Mixed Fleet Unite’. Both unions are under the same Unite umbrella and it is Unite that tends to do the negotiation.

    I’d imagine that forced job losses will be minimal providing there is a decent voluntary redundancy package offered. I don’t envisage a majority of Worldwide Fleet crew will want to go onto a ‘new’ fleet. For two main reasons. 1) the ‘average’ age of a legacy crew member at BA is 47 and are finding the job tiring enough already even with enviable T&C’s on their side. Many have already paid off their mortgages, their kids have grown up etc and frankly, close to retirement anyway. 2) the number of Worldwide fleet crew that ‘commute’. I’d say roughly 30-40% of Worldwide Fleet crew commute to work by air. From other UK cities, european cities even from as far as the US and Australia. Crewing only longhaul flights with plenty of days off makes this possible. It is much harder to do with mixed short haul and longhaul flying. If your roster is Day 1 LHR-CDG-LHR. Day 2 LHR-BCN-LHR. Day 3 LHR-EDI-LHR obviously someone living in Barcelona and commuting will have to pay for accommodation in london each night.

  10. Eskimo you are an idiot you dont know full picture. BA managament are ruthless heartless and money money motivated. Willie walsh is behind this nasty little man alex is his lap dog

  11. Just to reiterate… LHR Worldwide & Eurofleet CANT work with Mixed Fleet crew due to different contracts and working terms and conditions. Nothing AT ALL to do with “animosity”. What on earth !?

  12. The Unions have no leverage at all, BA is in total control. They aren’t going to be emotional about Worldwide or Eurofleet and how long people been working in these fleets. Everyone staying on will be on the same contract or they will be out.

  13. ‘And this is why I disagree with Lucky where he says ‘for any mixed fleet employees that aren’t laid off this will no doubt be good news, since I imagine this will only lead to improved conditions and pay’. NOT a chance. Knowing the BA beast and knowing it well if it can take an opportunistic chance to dilute even modest T&C’s they will. Fact is, even Mixed Fleet is to expensive in BA’s eyes.’

    Just to drive home this point. BA Single Fleet LGW are on terms slightly inferior to BA Mixed Fleet. BA has just sent BA LGW crew a separate email notifying them they must reduce their cost base and that LGW ground staff will be outsourced. And these are crew already cheaper than Mixed Fleet.

    Yet, BA is still pursuing it’s purchase of Air Europe.

  14. @Duck

    BA is not pursuing Air Europe.

    Iberia is. If it is bought it will become part of Iberia and not a separate airline under IAG

  15. Actually it is IAG pursuing Air Europe 🙂

    But lets be real. As Sky news described IAG today ‘BA is the locomotive of IAG, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling the carriages’.

    BA is the largest IAG company by far and the largest contributor of revenue and profit by far.

  16. Jeff – there is no equivalent of the Chapter 11 process in the UK. Airlines that go into administration here generally don’t come out of it, as things tend to fall apart quite fast and they aren’t able to continue flying for various reasons. It remains to be seen if an airline could go into administration when it is effectively not flying and put together a package that would see it come out the other end successfully. I don’t think it’s ever been done under our system.

    (And I’ll resist saying that Chapter 11 is a hugely unfair system that is effectively yet another form of US state subsidy!)

  17. @seat1c – I can’t imagine an airline trading/operating through an administration, for at least two main reasons: (i) the practical difficulty of finding administrators willing to take on the potential liability of operating an airline; and (ii) the fact that airlines are particularly sensitive to insolvency event termination triggers in their commercial contracts. (ii) in particular is obviously a problem that doesn’t exist in a Ch11, given the US approach to ipso facto provisions.

  18. I agree to a degree with almost all of what Duck Ling has said except as an employment specialist they are wrong on basic salary and the company can absolutely tear up a contract and all its T and C so long as they offer redundancy if the employee does not wish to take the new deal. (Asda recently did this on a take it or leave it and only lost about 100 staff) BA have also advised they are only offering Statutory redundancy which is capped at 12 weeks, so the older World wide crew will get very little compared to what they actually take home normally. They will have a structure of same pay for each “rank” left in the new structure with a yearly increment on time served, strip away nightstops, levels of hotels that go over and above CAA min standards and also expenses etc. Most of LGW and Worldwide crew will walk, exactly what IAG want

  19. 1)” BA have also advised they are only offering Statutory redundancy which is 2) capped at 12 weeks,”


  20. @Seat1C

    The huge difference is like what @Chris said, but I just need to emphasize the first point a bit more.
    The non Ch11 will put administrators, who most of the time are accounting firms, into turning around a failed company.
    The problem is administrators are working for creditors to recover the most out of what is left. Taking apart what is left is easier and less risky for creditors.
    The Ch11 Debtor in Possession is working for the company (and themselves) to leverage what is left to possibly turn profit again.

  21. @Duck Ling

    “No Animosity between the legacy and mixed” Why are mixed referred to as “My Little Ponies” by legacy.

    But the real story here is. Fire Willy Walsh and Alex Cruz will run.

  22. @ upperdeckjohnny. There will always be a minority of bitter people. In terms of Mixed Fleet/Legacy there’s the odd one of both sides of the fence. Legacy crew that resent Mixed Fleet ‘taking their jobs’ and Mixed Fleet that resent legacy ‘being paid twice as much for doing the same job’.

    The reality however is most crew on both sides realise that it is BA who have created the animosity by using the ‘divide and conquer’ method. Despite our silly names we have for one another 😉

  23. The comment you made regarding MF not mixing with WW & EF is incorrect. Occasionally the crews do mix, however the reason the fleets no not ordinarily fly together is because of different terms of employment and scheduling issues arising from this.

  24. In terms of mixing – how do you think this can be achieved when the two groups don’t fly together? Fact is, a good proportion of Worldwide legacy crew to not mix. Period. Even with each other. They’ve been doing the job 20-30 years, been to NYC/LAX/HKG/NRT a hundred times, their drinking and party days are over. Not all though.

    With few exceptions Worldwide fleet and Mixed Fleet have ‘their’ routes. For example CPT and JNB are Mixed Fleet routes. JFK and TYO are Worldwide routes. So it’s not even as if you see them in the hotel bar downroute. There’s a few exceptions to this where the two fleets share a route – BOS/ORD and SIN. BOS and ORD are both single night trips and the majority of Worldwide crew don’t do much (except shop). SIN is another story. A double night in a balmy climate in a hotel that allows us to drink our own booze by the pool of an evening. I can tell you there is MUCH mixing and socialising between fleets 😉

  25. Thanks, @Duck Ling for the explanation. I’m pleased to hear of the mixing. I have to confess my inf came from a retired legacy FA!

    It’s also interesting to learn that the “divide and conquer” attitude is still alive as it was when I left in 1976. For that reason, I’d guess BA won’t merge the fleets.

    They caught a cold merging 707 and VC10 fleets in 1969 when I joined, which provided a unified voice in those days.

    On a humorous note, I daresay that if the legacy crew want to “socialise” mixed fleet comes into its own!

  26. PS
    @Duck Ling Party days gone. Imagine doing LHR-ANC-TYO-OSA-TYO-SVO-TYO-ANC-LHR

    8 sectors in 3 weeks. (TYO-SVO longest sector of all routes – 11.15hrs!) (Service frequency 2,4,6 days per week) so guaranteed 48, 48, 72

    Yes, party for sure.

  27. @ ChrisC & DuckLing

    You’re both wrong – Iberia, BA and IAG are *NOT* pursuing Air Europe. That would be rather silly, as Air Europe went down the pan nearly 30 years ago!

    IAG are, however, still pursuing Air Europa…….!

  28. There is of course the odd exception of individuals in ALL fleets but for the majority, there is no animosity. We mix quite a lot outside of the actual flights; during annual training, in the airport, another fleet taking over an aircraft during a turnaround etc. In layover destinations such as Singapore and Chicago crew from both fleets will often socialise together!
    When we travel on our concessions we “look after” each other as well, regardless of fleet.
    It is a very worrying time but we are united.

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