“A plague on both your houses.” Fed up with BA’s continuing labor issue and strikes

by Janice Hough on March 30, 2011


Haven’t we seen this script before? Yes, we have. British Airways’ Unite cabin crew has voted again to authorize a strike vote.

It’s the fourth such vote in less than two years. Enough already!

After the latest vote, as reported by the U.K. Independent, the union must give one week’s notice before they strike, but any strike must start by April 25, four days before the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Yes, that puts Easter right in the middle of any potential walkout

After all of these strikes, British Airways is getting better at dealing with industrial action, as the British call it. The last time they managed to fly a majority of their flights, albeit with reduced service and cold food only.

But even for passengers whose planes actually took off, it was a stressful time — the schedule was only announced a few days to a week in advance. And the cabin staff walked out for a total of 22 days last year, with many many more days threatened. Both the company and the flight crews have no interest in their passengers. They seem so intent on making problems for each other, they forget the poor travelers who are paying their salaries.

BA’s “agents” were left in the lurch as well. For travel agents, it meant hours of work in rebooking flights and calming anxious clients, with ZERO compensation or help from British Airways. (The airline did, however, find time to implement a new procedure whereby agents who didn’t enter their agency code perfectly on the ticket were charged $100 per ticket, even if it was simple transposed numbers.)

Now, in most of these disputes there are shades of gray as to who is more as fault. But at the moment, UNITE and management aren’t even arguing over the issue that caused the strike in the first place.

Originally the issue was about how many cabin crew would work on various planes. The airline and union have now worked that out. But British Airways threatened those who struck the first time with the loss of travel privileges and they followed through on that threat.

So now the issue is those privileges. From an agent perspective and a consumer perspective, I don’t care anymore. Let them lock themselves — both sides — in a room until they work it out.

There is no guaranteed that there will be a strike. The U.K. Guardian opined that there seems to be less rancor this time. However, in the meantime, thousands and thousands of travelers will be worried about their vacations; business travelers, if they are aware of the situation, will be worried about making their meetings; and travel agents will be wondering what they should do about protecting clients.

(And from an agency point of view, it’s a tough call — how much do you worry about already-booked clients when there’s really no solid information? )

British Airways does have flat bed seats in business class, and a mid-class product (World Traveler Plus), which is attractive to clients looking to upgrade from coach without spending a fortune. And much-maligned Heathrow Airport is a smooth connection for BA to BA flights in terminal five. (Not to mention being easier for non-bilingual travelers – i.e. most Americans.)

But with all this turmoil, there is really only one safe solution here, which is booking alternative airlines in the first place. The more this management/employee craziness drags on and passengers are used as pawns in the battle, the better that solution sounds.

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  • Alan Cunningham

    It appears that BA and their unions have forgotten what happens when they drive the paying customers away (remember Eastern Airlines).

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