Well Played: British Airways Pilots Call Off Strike

Filed Under: British Airways, Unions

I’d say British Airways pilots just outsmarted management, and played their hand very well here, as they’ve called off their September 27 pilot strike.

British Airways Pilots Were Supposed To Strike

British Airways pilots are currently having a pay dispute with management. Pilots voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, and this was supposed to lead to three strike days.

British Airways pilots went on strike on September 9 & 10, and on top of that were supposed to go on strike on September 27. A few days ago British Airways canceled all their flights for September 27, because canceling at least two weeks in advance meant they wouldn’t have to pay EU261 compensation to passengers for the cancelations.

British Airways Pilots Call Off September 27 Strike

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has today called off the strike that was scheduled for September 27.

BALPA explains that the September 9 & 10 strike “demonstrated the anger and resolve of pilots,” and that it’s “now time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the brand.”

The union hopes that management will now change their approach and negotiate seriously with a view of ending the dispute.

As BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton explains:

“Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course. In a genuine attempt at establishing a time out for common sense to prevail, we have lifted the threat of the strike on the 27th September.

BA passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear. I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots.”

The union notes that they retain the right to announce further strike dates if management refuses to negotiate meaningfully.

Why The Union Played This Very Well

In my opinion the union is taking a really smart approach here. First of all, as I noted in the past, neither side seems to be budging. An additional day of strikes is unlikely to lead to management coming around and suddenly being more open to negotiations.

With that in mind, the union is accomplishing two things with this.

First of all, they’re making themselves look like the bigger party here, and like they’re looking out for the public interest all while management couldn’t care less.

Beyond that, arguably they’re doing as much financial damage to British Airways as they would if they actually went on strike. Obviously British Airways loses a lot of money on strike days, given all their lost revenue. At the same time, at least they don’t have the cost of actually operating flights.

At this point British Airways has already canceled flights, and presumably tens of thousands of people have either canceled their itineraries or have been rebooked on other airlines. So now British Airways is in a sticky situation. If they operate their schedule as usual, it’s highly likely that flights will be mostly empty.

So the company will be down a lot of revenue, all while having significantly higher operating costs than if it were just a regular strike date. It will be interesting to see to what extent British Airways restores their schedule for September 27.

What do you make of BALPA calling off the pilot strike for September 27?

  1. We can spin this all we want… but after what happened 9/9 and 9/10 I doubt anyone views either side as the bigger party.

    Also the pilots losing some of their valuable benefits didn’t help their cause.

  2. And because the pilots are now available for work on what was to be a strike day, BA has to pay them – even though it has already cancelled all the flights. That’s a very smart move on the union’s part. All the financial pressure on BA, with none on their own members.

    If BA had not been so desperate to avoid EU261 payouts, it would have had more flexibility.

  3. BA would obviously not have had to pay compensation under EU 261 if a flight was cancelled/late because of the strike. They would only have to rebook passengers, book them hotels etc.

  4. @Robert actually there is a precedent where Ryanair were told that strikes are not “exceptional events outside of the airline’s control”, so EU261 applies if it’s their own staff.

  5. EC261 compensation would not have applied anyways. ‘Industrial action’ falls under the allowed extraordinary circumstances defense for carriers, unless it was a spontaneous, wildcat strike action (which this was not). BA was actually just being prudent, astonishingly.

  6. Under UK law, EU261 does apply if it’s the airline’s own staff going on strike: The court’s logic was that it is entirely within the airline’s control how they manage their own staff. If they mismanage them such that the staff go on strike, that is BA’s fault.

  7. BA should just tell the union the airline is shuttered on the 27th because of them. Pilots should not show up that day, and will not be paid for that day.

  8. If BA doesn’t run flights on September 27 for economical reasons, sounds like it is now their economic decision versus strike action and EU261 should apply. But good look collecting without a fight.

  9. @Lucky
    I agree that the pilots union is playing their hands well if their main goal is to inflict as much financial damage to BA. I disagree that the union looks “better” after cancelling their strike. In my opinion, the average passenger is not overly concerned about the EU261 compensation or even know about it, they just to want to be able to fly. Since BA cancelled the flight well in advance and everyone know it is because of the pilot’s strike. Cancelling their scheduled strike after forcing BA to cancel flights only looks petty to me. I actually feel bad for BA, the pilots are not in “good faith” by their actions. It is a dick move and no one likes that.

  10. What game is being played here? Annoy management so much that they harden their position? Or soften management by showing them how much they can be toyed with?

  11. The union has done nothing smart here! Okay, even if they succeeded in causing some financial loss which in the grand scheme of things is peanuts to BA, they have simply demonstrated their true intentions to cause disruption when they knew they weren’t going to go ahead with a strike! Once again, the only losers here are the travelling public for the mess caused by greed… the pilots’, the unions’ and BA’s! Let it be noted they are not exactly fighting for minimum wage or basic workers’ rights here!

  12. So the union goal is to not do the only thing that would work, which is to strike? They’ve tried talking and negotiating and by backing down they look soft. BA will only negotiate in good faith when the strikes cost them substantial amounts of money.

  13. It’s too bad ba can’t just fire the bloody lot of um. If their contracts are up they should offset pilot pay by however much the strike cost.

    Bunch of entitled good for.nothings, holding not just the company hostage, but the entire flying public.

  14. We’ve seen plenty of self-serving claptrap from many companies over the years. The statement by Brian Strutton about the altruistic reasonableness of the pilots is just that. It is obvious they know that they already forced the cancellation of all those flights and consequent disruptions to the public. He is playing games, not contributing to any forward steps.

  15. I suspect if BA had proceed with whatever they promised their pilots back in the day when they were not doing well, they would not be in the mess they are in today. They must had promised more than 11-12% increase per year for three years otherwise the pilots wouldn’t have gone on strike. BA really should have fulfilled their promise than to backtrack. I’m not sure why the unions didn’t have what management promised in writing so saving all these headaches. Hopefully going forward, unions need to have their attorneys drawn up better contract when times are rough (because recession always come back like taxes and death); promise is an empty thing to have; a legal document is another matter.

  16. After having suffered through our flight cancellation on Sept 9, dealing with BA’s slow upgrade of their fleet to newer more competitive seating, their seeming disinterest in the well being of their pilots and employees, and my distaste for flying through Heathrow these days, I am at wits end with British Airways. It’s time for BA to step up its game, settle with their pilots and employees and offer the best possible product or I will continue to look elsewhere when I book future flights.

  17. Mark Elliot Lehman,

    If it were any other airline you could just ignore them

    The fact that you can’t ignore BA shows exactly why BA can drop standards and still make a lot of money. you need them more than they need you.

  18. Stan , I agree BA should fire the bloody lot . Then go out of business to prove their point .
    BTW , there is already a shortage of qualified pilots.

  19. Dalo, go out of business to prove a point, or go out if business because the unions were the straw that broke the camel’s back – what’s the difference?

    Look at hostess. Look at gm. And today the unions have the nerve to say they saved gm back in the great recession – when they are striking because $90k+ PLUS benefits just isn’t good enough for semi skilled labor in lower cost of living markets….

  20. Just go on strike less than 2 weeks notice. Hammer BA they deserve it. Especially after buying Max planes right after they killed so many people.

  21. Can’t really characterize this move as “well played” by the union. To the travelling public this ‘on/off’ strike looks extremely petulant of the union. And as for BA management, how on earth will this soften their stance? Forget the glamour-puss pilots, if there’s a group that deserves a pay rise it should be the cleaners/janitors.

  22. I’m supposed to fly on LH out of LHR on the 27th. I’m selfishly wondering if the airport won’t be crowded now.

  23. Stan , if you classify airline pilots as semi skilled I doubt you have a clear perception of the knowledge , the training , the intelligence required for the job. I also doubt you are familiar with compensation common for performance at a similar level .
    I was not exaggerating about a pilot shortage either . In other words it is becoming a “sellers” market .
    It is a popular excuse to blame management shortcomings on the employees . Yes , I have been following the GM fiasco for years . I admit I have not paid much attention to Hostess .
    John Paul Getty in his book “How to be Rich” described his philosophy for Union negotiations . If you read it you may be surprised by the outlook of this very successful businessman.
    I am not writing to give you a hard time . I am suggesting that you ask “What are the true facts , what are the real issues ?” If you examine situations without preconceived ideas you will be a more successful investor .

  24. I had a flight on Sep27, at 1520 yesterday the BA system unilaterally decided I am now travelling on Sep28 and rebooked me and emailled.

    Whilst on the phone to BA on hold to sort this (I have a QR connection in CPH on evening of 27th) 38 mins into the hold the announcement breaks on the news, when I finally get through there is apparently nothing they can do as operations may still not run the flight.

    So I’m now in a worse situation than before. This feels like they are playing games, the timing was perfect to cause even more disruption than the original strike.

    I have no idea where I now stand and have to wait 72 hours apparently for the situation to be known.

  25. How do the pilots come out looking good? As a customer, they did strike for two days, threaten a third, BA takes the smart approach and rebooks passengers in advance, then pilots say “not really, we aren’t going to strike now”? Quite frankly, [email protected]@k the pilots. Passengers are pawns in their attempts for leverage. In my eyes, I don’t feel safe with someone that shows they could give a shit about me unless it benefits them. If you are on a flight with one of these jerks and a problem happens they have already shown they will throw you under the bus to protect themselves.

  26. For workers to deliberately and primarily target their customers rather than their management with industrial action is always wrong and very short sighted. Many of those customers affected will never return to BA and it does not take Einstein to work out the net result of that for the workforce.

  27. @ John
    “To the travelling public this ‘on/off’ strike looks extremely petulant of the union.”

    I love how you have appointed yourself as a spokesman for me. But as a member of the travelling public, I can assure you I do not look at this issue in the way you have stated.

    The airline pilots took part in a secret, independent ballot asking if they wanted to strike.


    Sorry for shouting, but just pause there for a moment and think about what that means. This group of intelligent, highly-trained professionals – in a profession largely characterised by employee loyalty to just one or two employers throughout their careers – has decided they are so cross with how management has treated them that they want to strike.

    Not just one or two “troublemakers” or “communists”. Not some rowdy “show of hands” in the middle of an excitable mob. But more than 9 out of every ten pilots in a secret ballot.

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of any individual claims, I would say that fact alone shows mismangement on an epic scale. From a management team whose boss is apparently worth £1.3 million a year.

    No, this member of the travelling public is with the pilots (and I write that as someone who was considerably inconvenienced by the last strike action, having to re-route in a way that added about 6 hours to my journey home after an exhausting week of work).

  28. @The Nice Paul, I have to say I typically agree with your arguments. Here, I can’t say I do. Just because 90% are angry at management, that doesn’t immediately make management at fault. It can also mean because they see the CEO makes £1.3 million a year, they want to make more. And because they want more, and they can disrupt the everyday customer, they will do it. Similar to the three year old that takes his ball home. How about the supporting the argument, the pilots make a good income, the CEO is well overpaid (as are most), and challenge the Board to reduce the CEO salary and make the company more profitable by making the hard working team below the C-Suites feel they are paid in alignment with the upper management and fairly? To serviced those that actually pay their salary is nothing less than extortion. As I said before, if that is their mentality, I don’t trust them to fly me from point A to point B due to poor judgement regardless of their education and training.

  29. Smart move? Only the pilots themselves will think this is smart, such is the state of their inflated egos. Who are the target audience here, the press, the travelling public, shareholders? Let’s take each one in turn. The press are enjoying giving BA management a kick in right now, as public sentiment leans that way, but they’ll soon switch to form and turn on the pilots. The travelling public has been massively inconvenienced, this stunt, because that is what it is, is unlikely to make them think the pilots (whose salaries are multiple times greater than said public) are reasonable. So lastly the shareholder, will they really be kicking IAGs door down to insist on a compromise? After suffering IT failures, fines, sell onboard, brand dilution? They will sit tight, BA is a moneymaker and they trust the management of IAG if not BA.

    The only people BALPA need to be speaking to are BA/IAG management and if anyone knows Willie Walsh he will sense blood in the water now. A period of reflection as Strutton put it, is nonsense. The last strike day was over a week ago and they’ve heard zilch from BA by their own admission. But like a lovesick teenager BALPA sit by the phone, it never rings. This is hardly going to encourage IAG to compromise, quite the opposite. This dispute is over.

    BALPA, once again, has failed to appreciate that unlike lower tier airline management such as EasyJet and Thomas Cook, IAG is formidable and the likes of Strutton & Co, hardly union heavyweights, have been outclassed despite a 94% strong army.

  30. What really annoys me about reading articles about the BA is perspective. To you and everyone outside of London and the UK it’s BA’s pilots going on strike over pay and good for them as you would say. To everyone in the UK especially London who has to travel for work, it’s a disaster, I’m constantly stressed at the moment as to whether or not I’m going to be able to business (we had to postpone a board meeting because we couldn’t get everyone rebooked). And for the record this whole pay debacle just seems childish and unnecessary given that BA’s pilots are paid a hell of a lot of money each year. The majority earn over £100k which is an insane amount in the UK and so many people (myself included) have no sympathy for the pilots and actually treat them with anger.

    However this whole situation lends itself to Virgin Atlantic’s and may actually result in some or all of their Heathrow ambitions becoming reality.

  31. When will unions realize that asking for too much means less in the long term. Travelers will switch airlines where they can. I’ve stopped flying BA already.

  32. We booked last Nov for a BA flight on 9/27 from SFO to Heathrow and connecting to Inverness. I don’t know why so many reports indicate that BA cancelled ‘all’ flights for 9/27. We were never notified that our flights were cancelled and in fact, I called BA on 9/16 and they confirmed that it had not been cancelled. I guess they were hedging their bets but if they were to cancel, they would have had to pay compensation since it would have been within the 2 week period of notification.

  33. @lucky You commend the heinous, deceptive and malicious actions of this union against the traveling public??? I thought you were in our corner. Clearly not.

  34. We were originally scheduled on a British airways flight from Pittsburgh to London on September 27th we rebooked in light of the strike and now that the strike has been called off we called British airways to get back on the original flight and they want $1,087 for 6 travellers. Talk about greedy and stupid.

  35. The cost to BA of not averting the strike is now becoming clearer:

    The majority of my annual flights (mostly J class intercontinental, paid for by my employer) have been on BA – more because of the variety of non-stop flights from LHR to, eg, South and North America, where their competition is usually lousy (Aerolineas Argentinas, anyone?). Going eastwards I’ve usually used JAL, Qatar or a better option.

    But the strikes have persuaded me to try other options, and I’m now enjoying KLM from my local airport to most westbound destinations via Schipol. A typical trip next month (LHR-YUL-JFK-LHR, the two main legs previously on BA) will now be NWI-AMS-YUL-JFK-AMS-NWI. Total journey time for me will be the same, taking account of ground travel time. And BA has lost the business completely.

    I wonder how many more customers it is losing?

    Maybe their new club suite will tempt me back. But they’re going to have to do something to get all my business back.

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