Ouch: Pilot Strike Grounds British Airways

Filed Under: British Airways, Unions

I’m a bit surprised it’s happening, but it is…

Virtually all British Airways “mainline” flights are canceled today due to British Airways’ pilot strike, and we can expect the same thing to happen tomorrow. I don’t think Heathrow’s Terminal 5 has ever been this quiet.

Amazingly enough this is the first time that British Airways pilots have gone on strike in decades, and it’s also just shortly after British Airways’ 100th anniversary celebrations.

Why British Airways Pilots Are Striking

Over the summer British Airways pilots voted overwhelmingly for industrial action. The reason this has been so drawn out is because British Airways took the union to court, and the court voted in favor of the union. Then British Airways tried to appeal the decision, and failed again.

So as of now strikes are scheduled for today and tomorrow (September 9 & 10), and also for September 27 (though that strike ended up being called off).

Color me surprised that management and the union haven’t been able to come to an agreement to avoid this happening. British Airways management claims that the strike costs them £40m. The union claims that the difference between that and what they’re asking for is £5m. I’m not sure I buy the union’s claim, but that is what they’re saying.

Bigger picture, I’m just shocked that they weren’t able to avoid a strike list this, since a strike is a lose-lose — pilots gain nothing, and the company loses a lot of money as a result.

What British Airways Is Saying

British Airways has a dedicated webpage about the strike, where they’re saying the following:

We understand the frustration and disruption BALPA’s strike action has caused you. After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this.

Unfortunately, with no detail from BALPA on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly, so we had no option but to cancel nearly 100 per cent our flights.

We remain ready and willing to return to talks with BALPA.

If you’re scheduled to fly on British Airways, see here for what the UK Civil Aviation Authority says about your rights.

At this point I think it’s safe to say that almost all British Airways mainline flights will be canceled until tomorrow. Even if management and the union were able to negotiate now, it’s not like they would still operate flights according to the original schedule, given that they would likely be empty.

Bottom Line

This is one of the biggest strikes we’ve seen at a major European airline in a long time. It’s not that some small percentage of flights are canceled, as is often the case during industrial action. Rather virtually all mainline flights are canceled.

As I said above, strikes like these are such a lose-lose. The company loses money, and those striking aren’t any closer to getting what they wanted.

I’ll be curious to see if management and the union can come to an agreement after this first round of strikes, or if the one at the end of the month happens as well.

  1. It’s not an equal loss or no loss at all to the pilots. That’s why almost every time, it works. Airlines won’t give in fast, so they don’t look weak for the next round and to maybe get the public opinion on their side. If the total costs (annoyed customers and loss of revenue) are worth it, is for the airline to calculate.
    You may be annoyed by it, you may be inconvenienced, but saying it’s a loose-loose is much too simple.

  2. Instead of writing ‘£40m’, which is an extremely British way to quote large sums of money, it may be more clear to write ‘£40 million’ or, much better, ‘GBP40 million’. The only currency symbol that is immediately obvious to a general public, other than $, is €. Instead of € and £, using EUR and GBP reads better.

  3. VT-CIE so you think. The £ Is derived from libra pondo bad dates back to the 17th century. Why should we write the “ American “ way so idiots can understand it ?
    Moreover $ could be Canadian or Australian dollars.
    I mean it’s BA from the UK so of course most switched on people would realise it’s local currency and not Maldivian rufiyaa

  4. wow. I dodged a bullet. Heading to Europe now. Almost booked a BA flight for 9-10 within Europe,but decided no time.

  5. This cant be good for either side. The longer this drags out, the less the public have confidence in BA, the fewer passengers they get, the harder it is to recover with planes and crews out of position, and and and…. While the pilots may have some public support for now, if this drags out, how long will that last?

  6. This won’t “drag out”, the dates for the strike have been announced and and any further dates (up to March 2020, when the current union “authorisation” to call for strikes expires) have to be announced well in advance. It’s not like they are stopping to fly forever, on Wednesday they’ll be back working.
    Also, I don’t know where people got the idea that strikes by cabin crew/pilots don’t work. Even Ryanair had to give in to a lot after the strikes last year. BA pilots are sure to get a lot from this.

  7. This is an alarmingly shallow way to look at a labor dispute. You’re approaching it from the consumer standpoint. By striking, the union accomplishes many things- immediate and significant impact to BA revenue, implementation of threat so as not to be seen as a bluff, show of solidarity, etc. By any measure, it is a calculated tactic that more often than not spurs action.

    I’m not pro-union by any measure, but do favor the pilots and mechanics for airlines at a much higher rate than others.

  8. I’m not sure such a strike is bad.

    After so many years without strike, the union must have wads of cash. After the strike, they are gonna be less flush. That makes strike action less probable in future years.

    BA also demonstrates that it is willing to let it come to a strike. That is an important signal. As is well known, there is an imbalance in the bargaining power between pilots and the airline.

    The number of pilots is in the low 1000’s. But they have the power to bring a company of 50k employees (plus many more employees at contractors) almost to a complete standstill.

    Due to their high bargain power, pilots command excessive salaries. It is understandable a company such as BA is sometimes considering extreme measures to reign in on that.

  9. Whenever we get a news about strike, it creates a negative impression about the airways. Either the pilots got valid reason for strike or BA have valid reason to oppose. Its the public who is getting affected by this. They are loosing their people.

  10. ‘£40m’ is pretty obvious. The pound sterling is one of the most important currencies for trade.
    It’s impossible to have not encountered in the news. Most people who travel, aka readers of thsi blog, are vaguely familiar with currencies of the top 5-10 economies.

  11. @Icarus I think it is only VT-CIE who is uneducated in reading and understanding the currency symbols. As an American, I can say that it is not Americans who cannot comprehend it. Only @VT-CIE has trouble with mathematics. I am unaware of any other Americans or anyone in the general public who cannot decipher currency or mathematical symbols except for this one blog reader and contributor.

  12. @Icarus Lucky is American and he is the one who depicted the symbols in that manner. So, I am sure you are over exaggerating it by saying it is only Americans who cannot get that.

  13. @Icarus Lucky is American and he is the one who depicted the symbols in that manner. So, I am sure you are over exaggerating it by saying it is only Americans who cannot get that.

  14. @Rui N – I realize that the union has to give advance warning of strike action. What I meant was that if the issue is not resolved after the second strike (assuming it happens), there may be further action taken.

  15. Guys! Guys! (And gals!) While we’re all arguing about the £ and the $ and the €, can we also take an overly pedantic moment to remember that…

    lose (/lo͞oz/) – verb – be deprived of or cease to have or retain (something).


    loose (/lo͞os/) – adjective – not firmly or tightly fixed in place; detached or able to be detached.

  16. Joachim what does the union having ‘wads of cash’ have to do with it?

    BALPA has members in other airlines (over 20) than just BA. It’s the British Airlines Pilots’ association not the British Airways Pilots’ Association.

  17. There, there! Good that you all know your currency symbols, from € to ¥. I am an ignorant frog (or, as Stanley said, the ‘one reader and contributor’ who ‘has trouble with mathematics’) who thought that Americans and others may have trouble in deciphering the £ and the m, but I am clearly in the wrong. It shows that the UK is not to be taken lightly.

  18. The best “social” strategy for an airline publishing billions of profit before tax is to do what Delta did ,that is sending a letter to all its employees infrming them of a pay increase.
    British Airways belongs to the Anglo-Spanish group IAG, yes the one that ordered 200 Boeing Max aircrafts lately…

  19. The Guardian is reporting that only 5 BA flights out of approximately 800 would be operating today – two operated by previously schedule wet-lease providers and three flown by management staff.

    @AR – hear, hear! And let’s work on getting “less” vs. “fewer” right too!

    On the currency thing, most people reading this blog would be familiar with the “£” symbol and “m” for millions, but it’s fair to say it is a regional thing – I used to work for a German bank, and the European convention of using commas and periods in numbers in the reverse order and abbreviating “millions” as “mio” used to drive me up a wall. There’s no right or wrong way to do these things. But sterling is still the world’s third or fourth reserve currency (at roughly the same level as the Japanese yen), so the symbol is commonly known.

    (Fun fact – the code for making the £ symbol is ALT-156. € is ALT-0128)

  20. In a free society, one potential response to a mass strike would be a mass firing. The “playing field” should be equal.

  21. @VT-CIE

    It has nothing to do with taking UK lightly or not. It is almost common knowledge that an m represents million.

    I assume you are from India, which ironically use a more messed up system. Before calling out £ $ € ¥ and m, as a British way, maybe try fixing lakh crore and use a digit separation like the rest of the world.

    @James N

    I think the union can stop a ‘mass firing’ by calling it wrongful termination, and the lawsuits will never end. Now if it’s ‘mass shooting’, a new American trend, there is nothing a union can do to stop it. Since gun control seems to mysteriously go against the 2nd amendment.

  22. James N you’ve been told many times that is not the case under UK law so why persist with posting the same ‘free society’ nonsense.

    In the U.K. (And in many other countries) sacking employees undertaking lawful industrial action (and U.K. courts have ruled that it is lawful action) is illegal and would cost BA millions in compensation that would make the cost of settling the dispute look like chicken feed.

    And if it did sack 4,000 pilots then who do you think would fly the planes? Pilots currently working for other airlines simply wouldn’t go and work for BA after seeing how it treated their pilot colleagues.

  23. @CraigTPA

    I’ll worry about getting “less” v. “fewer” “right” when you can explain to me why it is *essential* to distinguish between types of smaller quantities/amounts, but yet are perfectly happy with just one word — “more” — to describe both types of greater amounts/quantities.

    Surely if it’s essential for one, it’s essential for the other, no?

    Clue: it isn’t. It’s just a way for pedants to exert their moral superiority over other people.

  24. Since we are still member of the EU…I would assume EU Regulation 261/2004…will kick in..or will BA try to side track any applications..? Ref.If your flight has been Cancelled or Delayed you have the right to compensation under European law.

    Under EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers are entitled to up to €600 (£536) in compensation when their flight lands at their destination more than three hours late.

  25. Why blame the employees? This is such an American sentiment. Unions are there to protect employees. Without unions, corporations would reign free, because politicians don’t work for their constituents, so there is nobody else to support workers.

    Trickle down doesn’t work, so it is most def. not a lose lose. BA is not a startup where everyone gets shares and once the company takes off everyone is a millionaire. You need to update your economic ideology to the 21st century.

    Also unions make sure that there is fair representation and inclusion of women, minorities and handicapped people, something corporations do not intrinsically want to do. Also, a union give employees a chance to go against abusive superiors, if the company culture doesn’t allow it. I see no sense in bashing unions. If it comes to a strike it is almost 100% the management’s fault, because they don’t care about sharing the wealth with the employees. The question should be, why do the pilots need more money, if ground crew and flight attendends are far more in need of salary increases. And why doesn’t the Pilot union support pay raises for their colleagues. Unions need to evolve, but they are by far the root of all evil.

  26. @Terry

    EU261 is part of U.K. law (approved as a Statutory Instrument by Westminster) and will remain so even after Brexit until Parliament repeals or replaces it.

    As BA gave more than 14 days notice of flight cancellations on the strike dates then no cancellation compensation is due.

    If someone has been rebooked onto another airline and that flight is delayed then delay compensation may be due – depending on the length of the delay and its cause – but from that airline not from BA.

  27. @The nice Paul: Right. I’m sure your children will appreciate their low college admittance scores.
    Maybe they can major in Latin, where only the Vatican and your pharmacist would care.

  28. m = milli
    M = Mega


    mW = milliwatts. (cell phone power)
    MW = Megawatts (generation of large hydro electric facility)

  29. Re cost of strike vs loss of income

    If a strike costs an airline £50M it is a one-time cost.

    If they agree to a £50M raise it goes on forever, year after year, and is the new base for % increases.

    And by the way all union supporters – YOU will pay the extra, not BA

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