LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - British Airways (BA) pilots began a two-day strike on Monday (Sept 9), grounding nearly all of its flights and disrupting thousands of passengers in a dispute over pay.
The airline, part of the International Airlines Group (IAG), cancelled 1,700 flights to and from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Monday and Tuesday ahead of the action by the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) members in BA’s first ever pilot strike.
“I am really sorry that the cynical actions of the pilots’ union have put us in his position,” BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz told BBC television. “It is by all accounts an own goal; it’s going to punish customers, it’s going to punish our brand, it’s going to punish the rest of the colleagues.”
Another day of industrial action is scheduled for Sept 27.
In Singapore, BA Flight BA12 scheduled to leave Changi airport at 11.15pm on Monday was cancelled. But two other flights - BA15, which departed at 7.25pm, and BA16, scheduled for 10.35pm yesterday - operated as normal. BA flights arriving to Singapore on Monday did not appear to be affected by the strike.
BA has offered its pilots an 11.5 per cent pay rise over three years, which it said would take the pay of its highest earning captains from 167,000 pounds (S$284,827), plus 16,000 pounds in allowances, to just over 200,000 pounds. Its pilots on average earn around 90,000 pounds a year.
BALPA wants the pay deal to include profit sharing. “British Airways is going through some good times, we want to share in those profits just as we shared the pain in the bad times,” Balpa General Secretary Brian Strutton told BBC television. He had said pilots were willing to compromise, but BA was not prepared to “budge”.
The airline dismissed a new offer by Balpa last week as an “eleventh hour inflated proposal” that was not made in good faith. Balpa had said it would have called off the strikes this week if BA had engaged with the offer.
Mr Cruz said 11.5 per cent was “way above” inflation and the offer already recognised that BA was making money. UK inflation stood at 2.1 per cent in July. He added that the airline was prepared to negotiate.
The airline also said it had no details from Balpa on which pilots would strike, and had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly, so had no option but to cancel nearly 100 per cent of its flights.
BA has been criticised over its communications with passengers ahead of the strike, which has caused thousands of people to change their travel plans.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority is investigating the airline after it enraged some travellers by wrongly telling them their flights had been cancelled.
The regulator also reminded the airline to proactively tell customers of their rights. During the strikes, BA must offer the passengers reimbursement for cancelled flights, alternate travel arrangements under comparable conditions or a new flight at a later date.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged both sides to end the dispute.
WITH CONTRIBUTION FROM THE STRAITS TIMES