Obviously this is an incredibly challenging time in the airline industry, though I can’t help but feel like British Airways is being especially ruthless with their flight attendants, and almost taking advantage of the situation… which unfortunately doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given how bad their labor relations have historically been.
I wrote in the past about British Airways’ plan to simplify their cabin crew structure, and we now have a better sense of what that will look like. For many employees this will translate into a permanent 50%+ pay cut…
British Airways’ three Heathrow flight attendant contracts
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 not the case at British Airways.
At Heathrow Airport alone, British Airways has three flight attendant contracts (and this doesn’t even account for 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; their salaries have often been referred to as “poverty pay”
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 contracts don’t allow the crews to mix
British Airways’ proposal to flight attendants
A friend has forwarded me the proposal that British Airways has presented to flight attendants, which will see the structure simplified significantly. With this, there will no longer be three flight attendant contracts, but rather a single contract:
- All Heathrow based flight attendants would work long haul and short haul flights, and would work flights to all destinations
- With a single contract there would no longer be a separate Mixed Fleet crew
- Crew would all be trained on the A320, 777, and 787, as well being trained on one of the following: A350, A380, and 747
- There would only be two roles on every flight — manager (in charge of the whole plane) and cabin crew (everyone else); previously the Worldwide Fleet had Cabin Service Director (in charge of the whole plane), Customer Service Leader (in charge of a specific cabin), and cabin crew (everyone else)
- The airline plans on laying off about 12,000 total employees, and there are a total of 971 manager roles and 9,581 cabin crew roles available
As such the above isn’t unreasonable, and in many ways the structure seems significantly more streamlined, which is probably smart. The big catch is the massive pay cuts that Euro Fleet and Worldwide Fleet employees will be taking:
- Pay for cabin crew will be around £24K per year, including basic pay, flight pay, and per-diems for layovers; they can still earn commission from inflight sales and cabin crew performance incentives
- Pay for managers will be around £32K per year, including basic pay, flight pay, and per-diems for layovers; they can still earn commission from inflight sales and cabin crew performance incentives
It’s worth noting that the above amounts are really inflated, especially since they’re including per diems. The reality is that laying over in many cities can be expensive, so much of that money will just go towards covering expenses while on the job.
I feel bad for senior British Airways cabin crew
I understand these are tough times in the industry, and that both job cuts and even temporary pay cuts are needed. The problem is that when times are good employees don’t get to see much of the upside of that, while when times are bad they suffer disproportionately.
It just seems cruel to permanently cut the pay for so many longtime employees in this way. We’re not just talking about minor pay cuts.
Rather many former Worldwide Fleet cabin crew and CSDs will be faced with 50%+ pay cuts if they want to stay at the airline.
To me there’s a fine line between asking someone to make a temporary sacrifice and permanently destroying their livelihood in this way. You know British Airways won’t do anything to improve contracts when industry conditions improve, so this just makes me sad.
While it makes sense for British Airways to streamline their flight attendant contracts, I find the way they’re handling this to be disgusting, frankly. To permanently cut pay for their flight attendants who have been at the airline for 10+ years by 50%+ in some cases is just awful.
This isn’t how you treat people, and I’m not sure what they’re expecting from employee morale long-term with policies like this. I guess what they’re really trying to do is to get the senior flight attendants to quit, and just have a revolving door of flight attendants lured by the lifestyle while being paid very little.