Ouch: British Airways Pilots Lose Flight Benefits After Strike

Filed Under: British Airways, Unions

British Airways pilots have spent Monday and Tuesday on strike, bringing British Airways’ operations to a standstill. While British Airways has had their fair share of strikes, it’s incredibly rare to see their pilots go on strike, and this was the first time it happened in decades.

Management and the union simply couldn’t come to an agreement for a new contract, and despite multiple attempts at reaching a deal, it didn’t happen.

So I guess this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but management is now playing dirty, doing everything they can to send a message to pilots.

The Sun is reporting that British Airways has just cut flight benefits for pilots for the next three years. One of the best perks of working in the airline industry is free or discounted flights, typically on a space available basis.

Ultimately these benefits are offered at the discretion of the airline, and British Airways is now exercising their “discretion.” Now, I’d note that it’s highly unlikely that this suspension of benefits sticks. While it’s said to be for three years as of now, clearly this is an attempt to punish the pilots and also have a bargaining tool if/when they do reach an agreement.

They can restore these flights benefits as part of any agreement they reach.

What makes this interesting as well is that many pilots commute to work (they don’t live where they’re based), and they rely on these benefits to get to & from work. The Sun suggests that even those benefits are suspended.

While perhaps not terribly relevant, I’d note that The Sun’s coverage of this is incredibly slanted. We all have our opinions, but if reporting that flight benefits are being taken away, some of the commentary seems a bit much. For example:

The Sun can reveal that six of the mega-rich 13 Balpa union board members who ordered the crippling pilots’ strike live abroad.

They are so rich they can afford to fly to London, often paying to overnight in a hotel, from homes in Ireland, Spain and France before starting work flying duties.

Alrighty then…

Another strike is scheduled by the pilots on September 27, 2019. I’ll be curious to see if that happens, or if the union and management are able to come to an agreement before then.

Comments
  1. This is not unusual for pilots to deadhead somewhere to work while they live elsewhere. It’s still quite a glamorous and well paying job for pilots of many legacy airlines.

  2. That taking benefit away is kind useless because you know it’ll be restored when the deal is reached. But of course BA management has to stand their ground for a bit before come to an agreement with the pilots. Otherwise all other unions will get ideas in their minds and think maybe they should go on strike as well. It’s the game that both sides play. Of course consumers are the ones getting hit in the middle of this “negotiation”.

  3. I’m sure that will help with the onboard culture and keeping pilots
    feeling happy, calm and relaxed in the air once they return to the air.
    No worries to switch my premium cabin business elsewhere where there is less hostility against the most important individuals who actually fly the plane
    We had an AA mechanic sabotage a plane recently whats next? Scary

  4. Now let’s not forget that many many years ago BA got ahead of its European peers fighting the unions which has slowly led to the demise of the legacy crew (and their benefits) leading to an increase of the much cheaper mixed- fleet crew.
    The benefits will be restored but probably at a reduced level.

  5. Pretty weak argument considering how expensive it is to live in London. Even without free flights, it sounds a lot more frugal to live in Spain and fly Ryanair to work.

  6. You’re quoting The Sun as a source? You may as well go all the way and start quoting the National Enquirer.

    As someone caught up in this mess (a return to UK from Costa Rica via Madrid, on Iberia and BA, saw my MAD-LHR connection cancelled), I’m with the pilots. They have to put up with short-term-ist management cheese-paring the company in which most of them spend most of their professional lives.

    Management then lose more money in cancellations than the deal would cost, “on principle”: I was always taught that principles don’t matter a damn unless it costs you something to hold them. Here, the only costs are borne by the pilots and the passengers. And I have to put up with management then whining that they are doing “everything” they can to avoid the strikes — well, “everything” except agreeing to the pilots’ requests, of course. So, er, *not* “everything”, then.

    I would suggest the fact that way over 90% of pilots voted for this action, and all of them took part in it, is a very significant indicator of the real state of management/ staff relations at BA. This strike is a damning indictment of management incompetence.

  7. The Sun, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Express. Never quote these UK media outlets as a source next time. Thank you

  8. The average full-time employee in the UK earns £28,677, and they’re not the average person, since many Brits have no jobs or are employed only part-time.

    So yeah, a pilot earning an average of £88,944 (not counting flight benefits and a schedule so light that allows him or her to live abroad) is quite outlandish, even though it may look normal (or maybe outright low) from the ivory tower of a self-employed blogger whose travels are 100% tax-exempt!

  9. So you strike and the company take out benefits?
    This should be illegal! It’s a violation of the right to strike.

    Of course travel benefits are at discretion of the but shall not be discriminatory. Every employee are entitled to the travel benefits.

    They can be suspended due to misuse/misbehave of course, but at individual level.

    What is the justification? Because you strike? It would be turn down in any decent legal court. But of course we are living in times that corporate are more important than people, because corporate are too big to fall, or can’t go to jail or whatever bs!

  10. @Jake

    I suppose pilots and surgeons and the likes should be compensated £28,677 per year instead, nevermind the years of training required for these jobs.

  11. They get paid too much for what they do; certainly more than enough to pay for their own tickets. I hope the reduction in benefits is permanent, and extended to other airlines and all employment categories.

  12. Are there any sources other than the Sun? Because if that’s the only source, one can only assume it’s a lie.
    Also, even for people who commute five days a week into London it is cheaper to live in quite a few cities across Europe and fly in everyday. There was a study about that a few years ago. If you only need to commute 3 or 4 days a week, there was dozen of cities (including places like Barcelona) where it was cheaper to live and fly into London as needed.
    (The study was before Brexit, so house prices in London have stagnated and the pound as plummeted, so probably the calculations changed quite a bit for some places.)

  13. The Sun is about as unbiased as MSNBC but what is interesting is that usually with class envy type stories they slam the big corporations. In this case they have had a recent history of calling out many 13 Balpa union board members for being highly paid or already have taken holidays before calling for the strike.

  14. Good riddance! I’d rather have an empty seat next to mine than one occupied by some overentitled pilot on a free shopping trip.

  15. They actually lost them before this. By the way – flight crew are less concerned about pay than they are non-specified contract changes. This fact is not being reported by the media. All we have heard is whatever BS Cruz has spouted out during his PR media blitz over the last few days. Pilots greedy. As if that’s going to get the public on board. Also, bonuses are non-existent, and the pilot pay Cruz has been talking about (£167K) is the maximum senior long-haul captain pay. Less senior captains, senior FOs, FOs, short haul – far less. Btw – the pay raise agreed previously by cabin crew, ground, and engineers is linked to the % pilots agree to. There’s far more to this than meets the eye, (or is reported by the media because they don’t know), and BALPA aren’t pushing back (yet), because they’re still in negotiations. That said, when Cruz or Walsh are not even attending negotiations with BALPA, and BA reps who are, show up 7 hours late to a BALPA negotiation meeting last Wednesday, expect another quiet day at T5 (aka the Madrid terminal) on Sept 27th too. This won’t end well as long as Cruz is there, or as long as BA expect pilots to keep dealing with this BS.
    Yours, a pilot.

  16. @DaninMCI
    Class envy? In the right-wing Sun, owned by the Murdochs?? You’re having a laugh!

    @Jake
    £89k is a good salary. I’m not sure it’s excessive for pilots or other highly-skilled professionals many of who, let’s not forget, have paid over £100k for their own training.

    BA’s top manager receiving £1.3 million? Well, I’d find it hard to argue if you said *that* was excessive.

    And there’s the rub: BA has set expectations of what is a reasonable wage by the insane amounts they pay to their boss. Leadership comes from the top. Leaders should be leading by example. If they think salaries within BA are excessive, they should start by cutting their own. Then they’d have a bit of moral capital with which to confront other staff.

    Funny how management’s own salaries are just right for the market — it’s only their juniors who are ever paid “excessively”.

  17. @ Jake:
    Most jobs don’t require the prospective employee to spend ~£100K to get the job, and when they do get the job, they don’t all start on £167K. Not even close.

  18. Lucky, as others have mentioned the Sun is a somewhat dubious source for any real information. What I would say is that the issue of BA crew living overseas has been an issue for a while. I am relying on memory here slightly but during a previous Cabin Crew strike (which are MUCH more common than pilots strikes) flight benefits were curtailed. One of the upshots of this was the truly staggering numbers of them that lived overseas and relied on these benefits to get to work. There can be significant tax benefits for being able to claim you are non domiciled in the UK and essentially BA’s perks allowed crew to achieve this. The benefits were reinstated but it is a huge benefit that largely escapes the reach of the taxman as a “benefit in kind”

  19. My husband is a pilot. People saying that pilots “make too much” have absolutely no idea what they actually make! His first year he earned $30k on a degree that took $100k to obtain. Thankfully his was paid for by the VA as he’s a veteran but not everyone who becomes a pilot is a veteran. The pay is extremely common as ALL pilots start off at a regional airliner for a few years before moving to a major. Captains make good money of course, but most pilots are First Officers and the first few years make under $50k a year then they have to start the measley pay over again once they hit majors as a “year 1”!! Pilots are only legally required 24 hours off for every 7 straight days working. Remember, they might have an 8 hour “sleep time” between flights at some rando hotel or crash pad, but that’s not at home with family so no one really counts it as “time off” and is conceited a work day. They don’t get enough time to see the cities or have fun, just enough time to sleep and be back at the airport for their next flight.

    As for the strike? Good for the pilots. Last time they had a major strike it was for the pay and how little they earned (used to be starting minimum wage basically.) Being a pilot is a hard thing to accomplish and not everyone can do it. In fact, less than 1% of the IS Population knows how to fly a plane, it’s a hard thing to master. Pilots keep everyone in the air safe and people take their technical job for granted. I’m shocked there hasn’t been another pay strike elsewhere as the pay is still way too low for what they do, the little amount of sleep they get, the cost of training, and the safety for others that’s involved.

    But what do I know? I’m not some person talking out my butt on the internet but actually live it with my husband.

  20. I find it amusing that the Sun is “shaming” these “mega rich” workers for making economically sensible decisions. Somehow a translation into American just wouldn’t work: “the New York Daily News can reveal that a large number of these mega rich union members commute from OUT OF STATE!”

  21. British Airways and LHR have become worst in class now. Cancellations, delays, irresponsible crews, sourpuss customer service, unclean ground and craft facilities.

  22. I thought there was a report a few days ago that the average pilot made approximately 200,000 pounds per year. Was that number off? ~88,000 pounds is not pittance, but it’s not a particularly high salary either for a super high-skill/risk profession.

  23. As these benefits are discretionary BA can withdraw, change and reinstate them as they chose.

    If they were contractual benefits then the pilots would have valid legal claims against BA – absent any clause in the contract re say good behaviour. But as the strike has been ruled legal by the courts it could be argued that a striking pilot is not behaving badly and so they can’t be withdrawn

    However there also comes a point where it could be regarded that these discretionary benefits can be regarded as being contractual if they have been in place, unchanged, for a significant period of time.

    Most of the commentors on OMAAT are from the US and they need to remember that BA is subject to UK employment law and not US law and they are very different kettles of fish.

  24. LOL the Sun?!?!
    As others have noted, this site has changed.
    Any upcoming trip reports that we can enjoy? We can find aviation news elsewhere.

  25. It is too bad that British Airways had to cut benefits to their pilots but at the same time they have to reach a conclusion in life where they can succeed at the same time in their lives.

  26. Yep. Makes perfect sense. Replace a strike with missing pilots because they could not transit to their job. Great thinking. Score one for bullshit bargaining positions.

  27. Too damn bad. Union scum just inconvenient thousands of passengers. They’re paid, and paid well. You don’t like it, you go somewhere else, you don’t screw over your customer.

    Hurt them. Kill these benefits full stop. Oh boo hoo, you can’t ‘commute’ any more? Tough.

  28. Dear Jake, If you have not walked in a transport pilot’s shoe you have no clue what the job should be worth.
    The pilot’s bet their whole career on every flight and every annual check ride.
    It’s the barristers and parliamentarians who are over paid and under worked.

  29. Ok, so…
    1.BA has suspended pilots flight benefits for 3 years. (spite)
    2. The majority (or a large percentage) of BA pilots commute to work from other cities or countries as we did when I flew purser for Pan Am.
    3. The strike ends but because of the rescinding of travel benes commuting pilots cant get to work so flight scheduling integrity continues to be in the shitter.
    4. Passengers flip-out (remember, transporting passengers is BA’s primary purpose. I mean passengers will scream & exodus to other airlines
    5. BA restores benefits with full page newspaper apologies to passengers.
    History tends to repeat itself…..
    Helleeeer?

  30. Employees ARE NOT. Entitled to ANY travel privileges. It is a privilege granted by the company. It is not a benefit or package of their compensation.
    Another comment said that pilots deadhead from their commuting city. That is wrong. If crew member decide to commute from another city… They fly standby. There are contractual protections in case you don’t make the flight but you don’t get paid.

  31. £88,944 for pilots? No way.. it’s gotta be much higher.
    That’s a laughable amount cause that’s about less than I make on a single deal which happens probably a couple of times a month. But then I like to look down on the bottom half of the top 1%.

  32. If I had to do my life all over again I would have been an airline pilot but I never knew about it hardly any real work fantastic benefits. Hype a huge respect and great uniforms one more do you need to know

  33. Unions destroy any business they enter into. They milk the business and cause raise of cost of busniess just to make the mob bosses rich and the business has no choice but to pass on the extra cost to consumer. Millions of consumers are suffering for thousand of union people extortion

  34. Three years ago the pound bought 1.41 euro. Today it’s worth about 1.11 euro. So the “mega-rich” pilots who can’t afford to live in London, are taking a pay cut to live elsewhere in the EU. This is not so much because of the Sun but because of the narcissist demagogue supported by the Telegraph and Times.
    If you can’t attack the facts, attack the reporter. The facts reported here are correct, and the newspaper verified them with BA. What more do you want?
    “Asked about revoking staff travel for striking pilots, BA – facing £40million a day strike costs – told The Sun: ‘We make no apology for doing everything we can to protect our customers from further disruption. Our pilot community have been made aware of the non-contractual benefits that they will forfeit as a consequence of their action.’ “

  35. I was on the management team at a software development house where the programmers decided that they wanted to unionize. They took a vote and it passed.

    The next day, we (management) reduced all programmer salaries to minimum wage, cut all vacation days, reduced paid holidays to legal minimum and cancelled all benefits not required by law.

    The programmers wanted to say, “never mind” but if we allowed that we’d be in violation of NLRB rules on interference with the right to unionize. We said that they had to elect representatives to negotiate with us and create a union contract.

    They went on strike. In the meantime we hired consultants as temporary workers. That dragged on long enough that the workers found jobs elsewhere and we wound up hiring some of the consultants. Productivity took a dip, but then went up.

    This is the same mistake — assuming that bargaining starts at what you already have, rather than from zero above legal minimums.

  36. Steve,
    The tactic your company used sounds a bit like the US air traffic controllers PATCO strike many years ago. Sounds like the programmer’s strike didnt pose any legal issues but management’s reaction (retaliation) must have had a devastating effect on the strikers nevertheless.
    BUT
    In this case, screwing the pilots by disallowing them to commute or anything that will keep them off of the planes will adversely affect the flying public. Not a good move. I worked for an airline that hired replacements during a flight attendant strike in the ’80s. The service level dropped like a lead balloon especially in our 8 cart First Class cabin. Passengers bitched vehemently to the corporate officers and many defected to other airlines. Needless to say, that unpleasant corporate climate “motivated” management to reconsider their hardball posture.
    Passengers had little faith in the replacement flight attendants. Imagine how they’d feel about a wholesale batch of replacement pilots on BA’s global route system…

  37. @ joseph noormand
    Wrong country: the UK doesn’t have “mob bosses”.

    @Steve
    Wrong country: try that in the UK and the courts would rip your company apart.

    Travel: it can broaden the mind, as long as you bother to find out how things are different. Not even necessarily better or worse: just different.

  38. What amazes me is a pilot with personal knowledge of what’s going on (some of which hasn’t been widely reported) posted a few times on this page, and no one even noticed. Bash the author of this piece for quoting the Sun if you like, but they’re actually right.

  39. I agree wholeheartedly with the other commenters – The Sun, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Express are about as newsworthy as MS13-NBC, CCCP-CNN and AP (Al Qaeda Press) are in the US.

  40. @dave: No, the other commenters did NOT call MSNBC, CNN and AP unnewsworthy as you just did. Just called out the British tabloids. But since you’re likely one of the uneducated masses that FOX news loves to hoodwink, you probably wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

  41. The BA pilots were offered 11.5% increase over 3 years which was accepted by Unite and GMB but was rejected by Balpa because the airline is making high profits.

    Will they take pay cuts at the next economic downturn when they aren’t making profits? Of course not.

    Experienced pilots are highly paid and should be compensated, they are skilled professionals. However the union is greedy. The airline pays for their annual recurrent training and new aircraft type ratings as they move up the ranks. I think the pilots forget the value of this, which is hundreds of thousands of GBP over thier careers. The airline trains them, they move up and make more money, pretty good deal.
    Pretty favorable schedule too compared to most people. If they complain about travel and not being home, they are in the wrong business. I am in aviation and travel 250 days a year, more than any of our pilots but I don’t bitch about it.

  42. I completely stopped flying to / through UK airports when, after 9/11, they adopted such ridiculously draconian “security” measures that you could not carry a normal briefcase or any electronics on board an aircraft. At one point, I think you were allowed to carry a paperback book, period, as long as security thumbed through its pages. The UK response was paranoid and over the top … no other airports adopted their extreme, customer-insulting policies. This also meant that I stopped flying BA, because I refused to transit via the UK. I would imagine that many others thought the way I did, and stopped using UK airports, or BA. When checking certain international itineraries recently, I noticed that BA’s prices were far lower than competitors’ in Business and First. Apparently, they are having a hard time filling their premium seats. This is further confirmation that travelers are voting with their feet. Personally, I have zero interest in flying BA, or through the UK. As someone who doesn’t have one unpaid parking ticket to his name, I don’t like being treated like a terrorist, or being told that I cannot bring so much as a calculator on board my flight because I obviously have evil intentions. No way I’m putting up with that kind of insulting attitude. I realize that things have probably moderated somewhat, but first impressions stick. And I’m not going to run the risk of being told that I cannot bring what’s important to me on board because I’m obviously a grave risk to The Empire. Screw that.

  43. That’s what you get for a wimpy 2 day strike. Go for the gusto and strike till BA pays up and make restoration of benefits a condition of settlement.

  44. Why comments about The Sun? The information is either correct or it’s not. No one has disputed the truth of the assertions. The union is trying to damage BA to the maximum extent….and turnaround is fair play. And I don’t see why BA needs to support pilots who choose to live in other countries in order to avoid UK taxes.

  45. I’m not sure I would characterize this as “playing dirty”. The pilots’ union chose to strike, and BA chose to enforce this policy that was well within its rights and that was evident in the contract. You don’t hand away value in a negotiation. That’s just how negotiatons work.

  46. @DaninMCI~“The Sun is about as unbiased as MSNBC” so that means they are far more unbiased than Fox “News”?

    @KBernarna~Somehow I have to question the intelligence of a person spending that much money on the education and training knowing the salary ahead. The model becomes “no worries, once I get in I will just strike and create misery for the passengers and investors until I get my way? If you don’t like the salary and benefits of a job then find one you do. We are in 2019, not 1930. Pilots are hardly in a position for the rest of us to take pity.

    Unions served a great purpose in their times. But now the strikes and threats are simply to make them relevant to their dues paying members. Mechanics, pilots, etc are paid well with solid benefits. Making the customer suffer for your own benefit is a miserable decision. They no longer care about anyone but themselves. I hope the airlines come to their senses and start training new ones to start sliding in during these strikes. Others would love the opportunity. Nothing more than a shakedown by pilots.

  47. Interesting!
    It us nit about pay and conditions, it is about wanting a greater slice of the BA annual profit! So what if they paid 190k to learn to fly, entirely their chouce. What about all the university student loans? A pampered group of individuals who have inconvenienced tens of thousands of travellers who have nothing to do with their gripe! Quite shocking really!!!

  48. Many comments alluding to the real reason for this strike.

    Although money is quantifiable, there are underlying reasons for the pilots action, no doubt. I am not actually aware of what they are, but I do feel that the following is something to do with it.

    Since BA reformed (at the time, by paying consultants to fly around the world deciding what to call the “new” airline – and came up with the name it used to be!) from BOAC and BEA, the airline has operated a long haul and a short haul operation, which was not envisaged by management and always wanted a totally integrated airline.

    Is the following anything to do with the strike?

    Their new A350 will be “trialled” and run “training” flights LHR-MAD.

    Long haul aircraft on short haul route? Who operates it? long haul or short haul. My very educated guess, having suffered BA management as an FA a few years back, is short haul crew, on short haul benefits, who may then operate it on long haul routes, but short haul benefits.
    Integrated beginning to be achieved, by the back door. Typical BA management.

    Yes pilots earn a good salary, but compare it to MP’s as an example, high ranking civil servants enjoying a chat in their club rooms with free booze……… I now who’s salary I’d cut.

    Not that of the bastions of the bottom line safety of up to 500 people.

    If you really want to break the strike, do what Ryanair did, and recruit a whole new set of pilots to keep the airline going…. and then their negotiating skills would really be put the test. If they have any.

  49. “The nice Paul” compares the Sun to the National Enquirer. Its publisher until recently, a guy named Pecker, was a great friend of our President and, some say, played a key role in his election. So I think we might ask whether “The nice Paul,” if not a radical socialist, has tendencies in that direction.

    Every major newspaper in Britain is a tabloid except one, the broadsheet Telegraph, which recently paid damages and apologized to our First Lady for a story it published about her. Yet “the nice Paul” does not like tabloids. Makes us wonder? The Sun has the highest circulation of any British newspaper, which may explain why it can afford to cover aviation stories that readers of other publications will miss.

  50. Let’s look at the comparison of responsibility of these professionals to others. Take a surgeon who earns $25,000 for the life of one patient’s brain surgery in one day and compare it to an airline captain that has the life of hundreds as well as his own life at stake every time the aircraft leaves the gate. The captain does this numerous times a year but earns approx. $200,000 a year, but the surgeon earns millions. Also, the surgeon has maybe twelve years of advanced education at no abnormal risk of life, but the Captain has at least fifteen to twenty before he earns that left seat on the aircraft and risk many dangers in the early learning years of his craft. Now you decide who is justified in trying to maintain their professional career more.

  51. School bus drivers do not have the same education, training, responsibility, risks, check rides, orals exams, line checks, physicals, written exams, type ratings, on duty time, and if this doesn’t answer your jealous based question maybe you need to study the difference since you don’t have a clue. I could list many other items school bus drivers and doctors also are not required to do.

    Regards

  52. @ Ross

    That’s one of the weirdest attacks I’ve read. In British English (and we’re referring to British newspapers here), “tabloid” and “broadsheet” date from the time when all “serious” newspapers were printed in a large-format style, while populist papers were small (hence the derogatory alternative name for tabloids: “comics”). The fact that every broadsheet except the Telegraph has now changed physical shape (at least one of them more than once) doesn’t alter the crude division into two groups — serious newspapers and populist rags.

    As you can tell from other British commenters, The Sun is notorious for its crude, partial perspective. Although, in fairness, it’s also the biggest-selling daily newspaper in the UK.

    There are more reliable UK news sources: The Economist, to give one example. Though that might mess with your fantasy that I am a “radical socialist” (whatever that is).

  53. I’m a regional airline first officer in the United States and I make $36,000 a year in salary I don’t feel bad for any pilots on any legacy carrier.

  54. Their strike action does not make any sense to me. If you have a dispute with your management, target your retaliatory action directly at the management rather than directly at the customers. Many of those customers affected will not use BA again and fewer customers results in fewer jobs.
    Better still, just move on to a different employer where you may feel valued rather than hanging around and causing trouble.

  55. I travel frequently on One World airlines and always use BA when in Europe, but after having my flight cancelled on Monday out of Barcelona took an easyJet flight to Gatwick and let me tell you, they were great! I will rethink my bookings in future. Pilots need to he paid well as they have hundreds of lives in their hands, but personally I think rejecting an 11% increase over the next few years is just greedy.

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