British Airways Is Laying Off All Its Flight Attendants, And Re-Hiring At Half Pay

About a week and a half ago word came out about British Airways restructuring their flight attendant workgroup. Currently there are three separate groups – long haul (legacy), short haul (legacy), and lower-paid, newer ‘mixed fleet’ who fly both long haul and within Europe. These groups do not work the same flights together.

The arrangement comes out of a flight attendants strike in 2010, which British Airways largely crushed, operating many of their scheduled flights with temporary flight attendants. As a customer it was nerve wracking, not knowing until the last minute whether a flight would operate. And service levels were reduced, I got shrink wrapped sandwiches flying first class London – Toronto at the time. But BA showed their flight attendants were replaceable, and got ‘B scales,’ the ability to hire new crew at lower rages.

Now BA is going to combine everyone into a single work group, at lower pay. Senior long haul flight attendants based at London Heathrow will see pay cuts estimated between 50% – 75%.

A British Airways flight attendant posted a long message to Facebook about the plight of cabin crew, who are preparing to all be let go – yes, all will be let go – and then some hired back at lower pay.

On 15th June, I will be made redundant from the job I love after 34 years of loyal service. Redundancy notices are to be issued to 43,000 of my colleagues: the entire workforce. Yep, you heard right!

31,000 “lucky” former employees will then be offered re-employement on a far inferior contract that the company has wanted to enforce since 2010. For me, this would represent a 60% pay cut. Again, you heard right!

She complains about the high pay of the group CEO, the profits of the airline, and the amount of cash they have on hand while doing this. I don’t find those arguments persuasive. The group CEO’s comp was for past performance, driving significant profits. And those profits and cash on hand won’t last forever, nor should they be invested in money-losing enterprises. Still, what British Airways is doing is rather striking.

  • For people who say the U.S. is less progressive than Europe, I wonder if this challenges your assumptions?

  • British Airways is going to be a smaller airline going forward. They will need fewer people. That’s true of U.S. airlines, too, though perhaps it’s even more true for BA which is almost entirely an international airline. U.S. domestic route networks will buffer them somewhat in the near-term.

  • And of course while U.S. airlines have commitments to keep staff employed through September 30, in exchange for subsidies (they’re still cutting the amount of employee pay), BA has no such obligations in exchange for its £300 million subsidized loan from the U.K. government as well as deferred air traffic control fees.

  • In the U.S. airlines are going to lay off employees, but for the most part union contracts will mean they have to lay off the most junior, and least expensive, while retaining the most costly employees. In order to abrogate their contracts they’d have to go through bankruptcy and convince a judge, and there are hurdles to overcome.

  • While I’m inclined to believe the airline ought to be able to offer employment terms it wishes, and folks should be able to voluntarily accept those terms, that actually already happened through collective bargaining and British Airways should be obligated to keep those terms through the end of the deal.

    Here I’m talking morally, not as an assessment of U.K. law. The union says the airline is abusing the furlough process and it’s tough to disagree. A strike, of course, doesn’t have much force against a largely grounded airline.

Where I really part ways from BA is the recognition that their entire engine of profitability is their privileged position at London Heathrow airport. They have a lock on what’s been the most premium and most lucrative airport in the world to fly from. And that’s a privilege that’s been granted them them, for free, by the U.K. government (some of their takeoff and landing slots have been acquired from other airlines, like british midland, which had acquired theirs free from the U.K. government).

Heathrow slots amount to corporate socialism. That’s equally true for Virgin Atlantic. So pleas of market freedom and competition ring hollow.

British Airways itself was formed by the U.K. government, under the auspices of the Civil Aviation Act of 1971, combining BOAC and British European Airways. It received government protection from competition, with the U.K. refusing to allow competing scheduled flights by other British carriers (British Caledonian was forced to drop New York – London and Los Angeles – London as well as East African routes.) The carrier was privatized in 1987 under the Thatcher government.

I’d be comfortable taking back all the slots at Heathrow and auctioning them off for a 10 year period. Taking those slots from BA might gain a bit of support now, since they’re no longer pretending to act for the public good.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m on the fence here. On one hand it’s a horrible way to treat employees morally, but if they’re able to re-hire at half the wage or less obviously the group was earning far above free market wages. FA is a job that for various reasons paid far more than the skill or responsibility justifies. A senior FA shouldn’t earn more than an ICU nurse in a logical labor market. Bad situation for the workers, but a business is free to pay the wages it wants as long as employees sign up to work.

  2. Good article.

    Not sure how anyone could be upset about this. We turned off the engine of the world, and shout down people who get on airplanes.

    What did we think would happen?
    Everyone would just get paid like normal going forward?

    This is *another* effect of this shutdown. Tens of thousands more people (of the hundreds of millions) negatively impacted by our decision to shut down instead of toughen up.

    Zero sympathy. I went without pay for March and April and borrowed a lot of money to keep our business going.

    It’s a normal reaction to cut costs when 95% of your business is turned off by the keyboard mafia.

  3. I will venture to say that BA will need far less than 75% of its former cabin crew. I think that BA will need possibly 50%. But if BA isn’t using its slots at Heathrow, then they should be forced to give them up. Everyone thinks everything will be back to normal in a few months. NOT! It could take 10 years for BA to get back to the traffic level they had in 2019.

  4. BA wants the best of both worlds. If BA wants to pretend that they believe in a free market then they should accept a third runway at LHR and agree to all slots being auctioned off for multi-year leases. Gary writes a sensible perspective.

    Separately, the brass at IAG and BA should demonstrate that the wages that they’re offering are not in fact poverty wages by living on the same 24,000 pounds (maximum) a year for them and their families for a year.

  5. Not sure how they have 43,000 flight attendants when they have less than 300 planes. We have over 900 planes and only 25,000 flight attendants.. lol. Unless that figure extends across all BA workgroups?

  6. There’s a reason why labor is allowed to organize, and it’s for this very reason… Companies don’t want to be generous when they are rolling in it, but as soon as times go bad this is the bs they pull. Let the company file for the equivalent of bankruptcy, and reorganize the entire place with the books open. Otherwise, no game playing like this while suckling on the government teet for subsidies and screwing customers for refunds.

  7. Sad to see BA behave like this. Their main customer group (people in the UK) will not take nicely to them doing this. I could see this getting ugly in the courts in the UK.

  8. Is BA acting any different than other airlines today, I think not, maybe not today or tomorrow but the next day, yes. The form maybe a bit different but nevertheless less same end result. The “golden days” of travel are while not over certainly suspended for a few years.

  9. I sympathize with the FAs’ plight. But I also wonder if the alternative to just be laid off without any job prospect is any better. My friend in the lodging industry was laid off, and is unable to find anything comparable, even at half the former salary. Least these guys will be able to have half a salary.

  10. Like Mike commented above “I’m on the fence here. On one hand it’s a horrible way to treat employees morally, but if they’re able to re-hire at half the wage or less obviously the group was earning far above free market wages.” I can empathize.

    That said considering BA on paper is British in name only being an Anglo-Iberian company that is majority owned by Qatar and non-EU ownership is just under the 48% max.

    Having flown WTP~F cabins long haul in 2019 with BA. Overall cabin service was mediocre and WT+ was hard to distinguish between mixed cabin service in F and J. It was also inconsistent you might get great service in F it J or just OK service, or excellent service in WTP. For both paid and award travel.

    Since Qatar airways already owns 25% of BA and they just laid-off 5K Qatar FAs.

    I think that BA might even be ahead of the game to hire them (Qatar FAs) to service F/J long haul flights – and have them stationed out of Spain – and fly to LHR for long haul. Let local service EU/UK at living wages.

    Many of Qatar FA are from developing countries and quite thankful even with the hours, conditions and wages.

    I am not anti-union and I even support some industrial action (strike). Happy employee’s often result in happy customer’s. Flip-side senior FA’s shouldn’t be earning same wages as an MBA of similar age.

    Nor should a senior FA be earning 2-3x that of a entry-level FA – raise entry and lower max pay.

    Flying BA in many ways is like flying US carriers internationally.

    The service on Asian/ME carrier’s is much more consistent and “professional” even when faced with the sterotype “ugly American or Brit” or the DYKWI travelers.

    Somehow bad behavior or service by Western FAs gets a pass

  11. Excellent post!  Financial numbers aside, there is NO excuse for treating employees who have dedicated their life and career to British Airways like this.  Willie Walsh and his IAG Spanish based gang will forever be remembered for treating people like crap. Wille and Alex Cruz should take the same pay cut they are asking the people who dedicated their life and career to BA.  They aren’t worth the £  for the “leadership” they are providing.  They have outsourced many jobs that UK citizens originally had, including IT, which has malfunctioned many times.  The plan is to outsource even more UK jobs, all while still using the “British” name.  Ground staff and engineering teams are on the outsourcing radar screen.  

    That’s a fantastic idea to take back the Heathrow slots the British government essentially gave them for free.  The government should also take back the British flag and emblem too since they have made it clear they don’t care about the British employees who are the backbone of the airline.  I hope the UK government takes action ASAP and takes away one of the most valuable assets, the slots!   I know the FA’s won’t go down without a fight.

  12. @Mike there’s a lot more to the job than you see on an average day. There are responsibilities and on a bay day, FA’s are the “icu nurse”. Hate to break it to you, but they’re a jack of all trades that must be prepared for anything that happens. Also, nobody should go from receiving a certain income to put food on the table for their family and raise their children and have that taken away especially while the greedy upper management receive the same pay, bonus’ (just guessing), and the TAXPAYERS MONEY to keep them employed! I believe cabin crew’s pay is very well deserved.

  13. This is totally wrong. Why not cut out a lot of the top and middle management group, who are essentially there for reasons unknown. Many of those jobs are repetitive within the groups. Those FAs that are at the top of the pay scale have put in their time and paid their dues. Besides, FAs only get past d for the actual flight times. Yes, that’s correct. A Flight Attendants work clock starts when the doors close and the aircraft starts to move. I gen the doors open upon arrival, th e clock stops vs and does not start again until the door closes again. The company is getting free labor during all ground time. To treat an entire work group is unfair and should be outlawed. How would anyone like to be told that they are being let go after 30, 20, years of service, but they can reapply at a much lower pay rate? Not right.

  14. If you look at the bailouts that other governments hand out to their airlines… Seriously, 300M GBP isnt even a rounding error. US does 25B USD and Germany 9B EUR and so on. 300M GBP they probably burn through in a week or less.

    Given that I feel BA has to look where to reduce cost. And other than fuel and wages they may not have a lot of opportunities. So… Ye, what else are they supposed to do? As ugly as it is…

  15. How much make FA on BA ?
    Can you guys fly 12 to 15 hrs and arrive in different country wiht jetlag and after 2 days go back home
    And dealing with some very bad passengers
    Can you do that?? For £ $ 15 hr or how much do you think the should get paid??

  16. Great story!

    I’m inclined to say give BA the free market they want, which should mean no more de facto monopoly status.

    If BA can’t effectively compete, let another airline take the slots.

  17. A reduction of flight attendants staff may be necessary; a fifty to seventy five percent reduction in wages is opportunistic, predatory and immoral.

  18. “For people who say the U.S. is less progressive than Europe, I wonder if this challenges your assumptions?”

    I wouldn’t argue that Europe is necessarily more progressive than the US, but I wouldn’t use the UK to define Europe, either. The UK is in many ways more similar to the US and Australia legally and politically than Germany or France.

  19. And look at the comments. People saying a FA shouldn’t be making more than an ICU nurse. Sorry. But it usually takes a FA 13-20 years, depending on airline, to make that kind of money working high hours. We earn every penny we get up there. It takes us 3xs the amount of time to get a college degree vs finally top out.

  20. BA is disgusting and lacking morals. Those supporting their decision on the basis of claiming employees were overpaid is a corporate apologist. Of course these employees took their old jobs at half pay because the unemployment rate just skyrocketed. BAs employees should never trust the company again and should work to at every opportunity to destroy the company from within. Why shouldn’t they?

  21. It would be hilarious if none of the fired FAs reapplies. The best kind of collective bargaining in this situation is to collectively not reapply.
    As for “FAs shouldn’t get paid more than ICU nurses” – no they shouldn’t, but ICU nurses should be paid more anyway. That’s an apples to oranges comparison I see often when it comes to FA pay on forums of late.
    From a PR perspective, BA are once again performing terribly (the IT debacle a few years ago is another example), and will likely lose more than they’ll gain by reducing pay. The British public are pretty unforgiving when it comes to things like this, especially in the knowledge that the Spanish owners are sitting on €9 billion in cash reserves. Coronavirus will affect air travel for sure, but airlines should be trying their best to keep their best. As it stands, they’ll lose more customers and more money than they’ll save. And hopefully some slots at LHR.

  22. @ Pine tree

    The crew was already destroying the company from within. I cannot remember the last time I arrived at my, usually long-haul, destination on BA and thought, ‘Wow, that was a nice flight.’ Regardless of cabin. Compared to ANA, Emirates and a couple of others, they are hopeless. That’s what a near-monopoly does for you.

    @ Don

    Absolutely agree.

  23. Basic salaries for union workers is usually not what creates the savings. It’s all the other BS which unions pack into contracts so I’m sure these new ones that BA will be offering are stripped to the minimum which is what most regular non-union workers on the open market get. Everyone that is complaining about this on here would (have to) do the same if there were in charge at BA or you would be out of your job.

  24. Regarding the number of flight attendants: I think it’s more based on the number of passengers than the number of airplanes.

    A CRJ-200 flies with only one FA. An A380 has a double digit number. I couldn’t find BA specifically, but Lufthansa uses 21. So the ratio of FAs to airplanes is meaningless without considering the aircraft and the routes flown.

  25. The UK is very different in legal rights, protections, and things like Unemployment and Redundancy protections compared to the other major continental European Countries like Germany, France, Netherlands etc.

    For example, the *special* scheme that the UK introduced to pay furloughed workers wages, ie 80% of salary payable by government upto 30K a year – is virtually the same terms that standard unemployment payments are in normal times in a number of other continental european countries including France and the Nordics

  26. Many don’t take into consideration that the “high pay” when you calculate time away from base drops the hourly rate. Keep in mind the traditional 5 day work week equals 40 hours of work obligation. Where as a 5 day f/a trip equates to 84 hours of work obligation. You can’t “pop home” to take care of a sick child, you restricted to rest and types of beverage and food consumption.
    Now take the F/a pay for that trip and divide by 84. What do they actually make per hour?

  27. I flew for British Airways in the mid-90’s thru a partnership between British Airways and US Air. It was a wonderful Airline at the time, one that we were all proud to work for. These past several years have not been kind to BA. I have flown them throughout Europe and they are a clone of all the other low fare European Airlines, charging for a cup of tea. And now to have them fire everyone and tell them that they can come back for half pay is shameful. You can be guaranteed those at the top won’t be doing the same. The workers will be forced to accept these terms. Where will someone go that has given 30+ years of their life to a company to find a job? These actions will only contribute to the continued denigration of a once fine Airline.

  28. Thank you to those who are backing up FAs! And to those who think we are overpaid for what we do, I would like to see you give this job a go for a month! As mentioned by John previously, FAs are not paid like everyone else. It is true that we are only paid for the hours flown, along with a very small per diem for hours spent away from base. This means our hourly pay does not begin until that boarding door closes AND the brake is released!

    A regular full-time job typically means 40 hours per week, 160 hours per month. FAs, on the other hand, typically accrue 70-90 hours a month, give and take. For those like @Mike who think we are overpaid, please take a moment to wrap your tiny, narrow mind around the fact that any FA who actually works 160 or more hours a month has to work 10 times as hard as others on the ground. We literally spend hours upon hours on the job for which we are NoT paid. So yes, while a FA’s base pay might appear high at first glance, few are actually earning 160 hours on a monthly basis. And know that those who do choose to work that many hours do so at a great cost.

    I do not work for BA, but what infuriates me even more than the news itself are the completely unsympathetic comments. These people clearly have a total lack of understanding and more importantly, empathy. This pandemic has made all airlines suffer unprecedented damage and layoffs are pretty much inevitable. Some airlines may never recover. The least you can do as a human being is to not express that we deserve this.

  29. If you need me to get you off a crashed airplane, put out a fire, administer first aid, do CPR, get medical help, use the AED, build a bomb stack, or generally protect you, I suggest you rethink our wage situation. We are not there to feed you, as much as protect you from any harmful incidents which might occur in flight. You do get what you pay for. Good luck British Airways! And passengers, I hope you know where and how to use all the safety equipment on an airplane – just sayin’.

  30. C’mon Gary,
    The British government gives 300 million pounds to British Airways. The US government gives 24 billion dollars to American, Delta, United, and SouthWest.
    But you’re complaining about unfair British government subsidies in the form of landing slots for British Airways at Heathrow airport?
    Seriously? , now who is calling the kettle black.
    And I suppose every single British Airways cabin crew that is about to be fired and some rehired at a lesser wage scale are being unfairly subsidized by the British government too?
    I’m reminded of those halcyon days a year or so ago when Ed Bastion CEO of Delta was crying foul that Quatar Airways was receiving unfair government subsidies. Life was good when he and his ilke were charging passengers trumped up charges for baggage fees, and buying back their own stock to pad their own corporate bonuses. Ed has now gone strangely quiet on that issue since the good times have ended, and he had to be bailed out by US government subsidies?

  31. @Paul – you cannot call me out for hypocrisy on this, I was against the subsidies for US airlines – and I was against government grants of slots before this as well (see the article I linked to on this point). I’m not sure what you think you are proving when you say other airlines are getting more cash transfers than BA right now?

  32. Yea Gary,
    That’s the whole point they’re getting cash transfers in the form of US government bailouts. How is that any different to the socialized intervention you accuse BA of? You can’t pick and chose. The US government is guilty of subsidizing and protecting its flag carriers. Just like Europe. I don’t hear Ed Bastion crying foul for taking this hand out. Or giving it back out of disdain for the government subsidies he was accusing Quatar Airlines of. Hypocritical!

  33. After 40 years with two airlines I finally checked out. Over that period most of it was the often mundane and repetitive work associated with the flight attendant position, domestic or international. It wasn’t until the last six or so years that I was able to make enough annually to max out my 401k, put away some change for savings, and pray that our frozen pension plan wouldn’t be abrogated and turned over to the PBGC.

    I cringe at the remarks made that allude to the misconceptions on pay. Since most feel that you get what you pay for how about this? I’ve delivered a baby with no medical personnel to assist; evacuated an aircraft with an engine on fire; performed CPR/MMR seven times, saving six of them. I subdued a passenger who thought it was a good idea to smoke his cigarette while drinking his duty free bottle of 151 proof rum. That was the only time in my career I actually punched a passenger out. Most of the passengers I’ve dealt with have been great. Of course, over time, there has been an increased number of incidents of boorish behavior which those in this forum are aware of. I’m gone now, of my own volition, but I’m extremely sad for those BA crew members who may be on the street soon, thanks to Willie Walsh and his greed.

  34. One would surmise from the comments regarding Heathrow that free access to any airport in the world should be required to anyone who desires to fly into them. To infer that the British government is under some “duty/obligation” to release slots at an airport within the boundaries of their country to foreign competitors is just ridiculous. It is an internal decision made by the people via the government. In this case, the controlling of slots is entirely up to them. This applies to all sovereign nations and countries. It is they alone who determine with whom they may reciprocate for access. I fail to see how this fits into any discussion on the long running abysmal labor relations situation at BA.

  35. I am surprised that the airline is allowed to do that in the UK. Most likely, they couldn’t in Germany or France.
    Eventually it will bite them because FAs will work for the lower wage initially as there is no choice. But they will be looking for alternatives from Day 1.
    Once the economy improves, BA management will see the results

  36. Jennifer above, you absolutely nailed it with your commentary. To those who continue to think that we flight attendants are over paid and at 36,000 feet , are there to serve you a beverage show how totally illiterate you are in 2020 . As for the BA flight attendants , my sincere condolences . And without forgetting BA management , all Ii can muster to say is Shame on You ! Shame !!

  37. Leaning toward agreeing with the folks who say this is bad play, if they want to rewrite labor contracts (vs firing and re-hiring) they should declare bankruptcy, work things out in the open in court with all parties, and the minute they start calling out free market stuff all of the Heathrow slots ought to be put up for auction and the money generated used to pay back the treasury for the support paid to date.

    Although that carrier is in real deep trouble right now because of externalities and economic conditions — no matter how well or not it was run before, it’s a carrier built for a world with significant international travel demand. That world doesn’t exist today. Not sure how you reconcile labor agreements with the inability to pay flight attendants to staff flights that don’t exist. At some point BA must get some sort of relief when their business collapses? Or does it not get relief until there is literally no more money in the coffers?

    Tough situation.

  38. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are Britain’s only two major International carriers. As such they are given by the British government priority landing slots at Heathrow and Gatwick airport. Britain’s two major international airport’s.
    As WT states above, It is entirely at the discretion of the British government, just like any other nation, as to who those slots are given to. Priority is obviously going to be given to it’s own national carriers. No different to any other country protecting its own valuable national assets. And no differently than the US government awarding its prime slots to its flag carriers, Delta, United or American airlines, at JFK International airport in New York or wherever else it chooses.
    It is ridiculous to assert, believe, or attempt to lobby for those strategically valuable slots to be given to anybody else but that nation states domestic and or flag carriers. I believe this is a veiled attempt by the author to garner support for those lucrative slots to be opened up to US competition who have eyed them with envy for years.
    There is no doubt that British Airways cabin crew deserve better treatment than this by their management. But their unions and the British government have yet to have the final say on this matter. In other words, I don’t believe it’s over by a long shot.
    What I object to is the authors veiled attempt to use this BA labour dispute as a red herring in support of those nationally strategic slots being opened up to US /foreign competition. And to push the tired old argument between US and European competition policies. Does he really believe the US would do the same if the tables were turned?
    Yes the BA labour dispute is contentious and maciavellian but using it to play politics is worse.

  39. Lay offs Flight Attendants and RE-HIRING with half pay again. I’m pretty sure, they will choose the younger looking and fit cabin crews to work with them. Not bias but reality.

  40. @Gary
    Just to state that it is not just Cabin Crew but all staff employed by British Airways that are to be made redundant and offered a new contract with lower pay and terms and conditions.

  41. I do not know what an ICU Nurse makes, but I’d wager it’s more than our base salary. Many flt. attendants can make 6 figures, but that means they are flying a lot of extra trips, (rarely home) are probably Pursers & may also speak a foreign language; Which all adds up to extra pay. Are you bothered that professional athletes are paid more than policemen, firemen, nurses, etc.? You may know about your business travel, but you know NOTHING about our job. You know nothing about the countless hours we are on duty in which we are not paid. I have been a flt. attendant for 33 yrs., and believe me buddy, I’ve earned every nickel! As I’ve heard many times regarding over paid athletes or executives for that matter, it’s what the market will bear.

  42. I’ve been enjoying Jennifer and Leslie’s remarks about the countless hours for which they are not paid.
    They can’t be doing more than 25 flying hours a week (legal limit 100 in 28 days), and overall, duty hours are maybe 1.3 times flying hours on a bad day, so that gives about 30-35 hours per week on duty.
    I wonder if they have in mind the total hours spent away from home on trips. But then, they are being accommodated and subsidised with meal and daily allowances at BA’s expense all the while. And if any duty is more than 9 hours, they get overtime. Also worth asking them what they get in addition to these, should they be lucky enough to land a HongKong or Singapore trip.
    No wonder they don’t wan’t to give up what the hapless BA management agreed to in the 80’s and 90’s, confronted by a bunch of illiterate bullies. ‘BASSA runs BA, darling’. No wonder there’s an edge between New Fleet and the legacies.
    Time WW got this straightened out. Food on the table, my a@*e. Ongoing bonanza, more like.
    Leslie, the market’s not going to bear you or your nickels very much longer.

  43. Leslie and Jennifer, so sorry to hear about your first world problems.

    COVID-19 is leaving half a billion people destitute and without livelihoods. Nor means to feed thier family.

    Without the safety nets you enjoy in your Westernized but hard knock life.

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