Now British Airways Is Firing All Its Pilots

British Airways charted a course of cost savings by firing all of its flight attendants and then offering to rehire about 70% of them back, in some cases for 60% less money.

The backlash against them has been dramatic. British Airways has even received government subsidies during the pandemic. The U.K. Parliament’s transportation committee chair has taken up my idea of re-allocating British Airways takeoff and landing slots at Heathrow which are a huge government subsidy.

Undeterred, British Airways is now saying that if their pilots don’t give them all the concessions they demand, they’ll just go ahead and fire them too and rehire back a portion at lower pay.

[I]f BA and BALPA are unable to reach an agreement, the company would seek to force changes by terminating the employment of all pilots and offering individuals new contracts with associated new terms and conditions.

In normal times labor would strike. But what good does a strike do when the airline is already mostly grounded?

British Airways was created by the U.K. government and given protected space at the most lucrative airport in the world. If British Airways wants to impose new employment terms now on its pilots in addition to its flight attendants, then a market economy approach seems best here – stop protecting the airline from competition, allow other airlines access to the takeoff and landing slots at Heathrow that the government had given them. That new airline would, in effect, create more demand for airline jobs.

British Airways clearly shouldn’t be an effective (government-granted) monopoly employer in the market.

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. Not a good idea on part of BA. Actually a terrible idea. Already a global shortage of qualified pilots and once travel rebounds the pilots will have their pick of jobs. BA is on a race to the bottom, another RyanAir, albeit under the auspices of the Union Jack and as the national carrier. Way to go, Brittania!

  2. So the question all airline customers should be asking is which airlines will remain in business once the coronavirus pandemic is over? There is no guarantee that any single airline will be left standing unscathed. It’s easy to see how most all airline loyalty programs will be significantly reduced or dismantled.

  3. Shut the f[redacted] Leff. Your opinion on a foreign government and its flag carrier is irrelevant.

  4. Smart tactical move by BA. The pilots union thought they had BA by the short hairs up until Covid struck. Now the tables have turned. Excellent opportunity to restructure labor costs. Would be foolish not to do so.

  5. BA behaving like this will not escape their main customer the UK flying public and will not be popular with them. Sad I used to like them, I even had a Gold Card for several years. If they continue down this path I won’t be flying with them after treating their staff like this even if is costs me money to go elsewhere.

    This feels more and more like the disaster of Margaret Thatcher’s miners strikes in the early 80’s. It will leave a bitter mark that will take a long time to get rid of.

  6. Ironically, if they opened up the landing slots, at least some portion, if not a significant portion, of those slots would be taken by non British flagged carriers. The result is that there would ultimately be fewer jobs for current BA pilots. Notwithstanding the fact that flights are currently curtailed, a strike would still inflict significant pain on BA. I’m not sure what laws govern BA’s ability to hire non British citizens, but unlike flight attendants who are relatively easy to replace, I’m skeptical whether BA coud find enough pilots eligible to fly for them, especially at sharply reduced wages.

    I do think that in general, pilots of all the major mainline carriers are grossly overpaid compared to their next best option as individuals. And I do think that the huge number of of slots, and prevention of a new runway, are anti-competitive (just as slot limitations are in many U.S. airports). But unless this is simply a negotiating tactic by BA, they are likely overplaing their hand.

  7. @Robert: You mean Arthur Scargill’s miner’s strikes. His popularity never recovered. Margaret Thatcher went on to record election victories.

  8. @Gary: Right. But don’t forget the protectionism being maintained for Lufthansa by the German government, contrary to the interests of German consumers, while German taxpayers bail out Lufthansa to the tune of billions of dollars.

  9. @johhny – why would slots being taken by other airlines mean fewer jobs for current BA pilots, who could easily staff a local base for a foreign carrier, commute for the foreign carrier, etc.? Before the pandemic Virgin was desperate for big slot allocations too by the way.

  10. @Leffs Irrelevant: BA is a private company that is mainly owned by non UK entities. The flag carrier idiocy was ended by Margaret Thatcher’s enlightened privatization.

  11. It’s official: Willie Walsh and Alex Cruz have gone off the rails. They have to be the most hated men in the UK.

  12. Hey snowflakes, it may be hard-nosed but it’s called negotiating. Smart move by BA.

  13. Wonderful!!!
    Everybody going to his job!!!
    COVID+BLM will burn our economy into ashes.
    What a wonderful 2020!!!

  14. @L3–BA is the flagship carrier of the UK, and has sweet real estate at LHR. The question is, does the UK want their flagship carrier to be of the same calibre as Ryanair? Let’s all sink to the lowest common denominator! Why eat at fine restaurants, drink top shelf liquor, and drive nice vehicles when a Big Mac, a 6-pack of Pabst, and a Chevy Spark are cheaper?

  15. Wow. Wow. Absolutely Wow.

    Years ago, when I worked for a regional airline, our managers drilled into our heads that every airline would immediately close its doors if the pilots left. Even for a few days. Goodbye airline.

    For BA Corporate to have such alleged lunacy to consider firing all pilots is unheard of.

    Questions (sorry if I didn’t pay too much attention):

    – Aren’t BA pilots part of a Union of some sort? If yes, who said that the Union would allow pilots to break ranks? Doesn’t that mean a legal challenge at a minimum?
    – Aren’t the majority of BA’s pilots within retirement age?

    – Does BA have enough cash to ground all flights until further notice — without government assistance?

    – How does BA’s Board (and shareholders) view this gamble (and lack of good will)?

    It would be hilarious to find out if either American or United Management had actually contemplated the same idea

  16. @KimmieA: One more time. BA is PRIVATELY owned, mainly by non-UK citizens or entities. Are you too stupid to read replies that correct your sophomoric errors? A simple Google search would have saved you from your bungling mistakes.

    Oh, and Ryanair is far more popular than BA by number of people who use it. No one cares that you are a snob. It is what they choose when they spend their money that tells you what is important to them.

  17. I wonder what is their ratio of administration and management to workhorse staff. Are they doing the same to the the desk huggers?

  18. @L3 – not everything in life and business is about money. Some of it is about the way you treat other people. Yes – Arthur was an ass during the miner’s strikes I was there. Margaret was no angel either.

  19. @L3–Seems someone here has his knickers in a twist! Quoting from Google: “British Airways (BA) is the flag carrier airline of the United Kingdom, headquartered in London, England, near its main hub at Heathrow Airport.” Get that? Flag carrier airline.

    Just because something is cheaper, pays its employees less, and has a greater profit margin doesn’t make it better. Case in point: Walmart. Just because a majority of the population shops at Walmart doesn’t mean they are smarter shoppers, more educated shoppers, or more discerning shoppers.

  20. @KimmieA: That quote is from Wikipedia — idiot. It is some teenager’s unthinking description. To be a flag carrier you have to be a state monopoly. Hence “American Airlines” is NOT a flag carrier.

    Have you ever been on Ryanair? Have you ever done a rational examination of their traffic statistics? Everyone (except you) travels on them. Fantastic company, opening up air travel to millions.

    You choice of Walmart is apposite. They have a line out the door of people who want to work for them because they are such a good retail employer. Your should apply. You wouldn’t make it through the application process, but it would convince you what a great organisation they are.

  21. @All: This is @KimmieA’s view of the kind of shoppers you want at your establishment.

    “Case in point: Walmart. Just because a majority of the population shops at Walmart doesn’t mean they are smarter shoppers, more educated shoppers, or more discerning shoppers.”

    “Smarter, educated, more discerning?” Note: Not part of “the basket of deplorables”. Nor Biden’s 15%!

    I think we have, not just corona virus, but the coastal elite!

  22. I guess nobody understands why you are told to put on your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. If BA is unable to save the airlines everyone will lose their job.

  23. @sandoval
    You are disgusting. What do you think an airline is? A Walmart? You put your life in handa of those pilots. Do you even know how expensive is to become a comercial pilot (in the United States)and the huge shortage we have of them? You also must being one of those stupid people that think flight attendants are hand picked and have to go through a lot of clearances and security sensitive clases and trainings, besides memorazing the features of the safety equipment in the cabin, they know you to take care of customers in a damn raft etc. You are ignorant.

  24. @Gary Fair point, but even then, foreign carriers would be foolish to offer BA pilots what they were making at BA. And pilots of foreign carriers , especially those who are unionized might take issue with the hiring of pilots in a U.K. base at a time of furloughs

  25. @Roy: If the first, then it is FAA approval, according to what a company spokesman told me this morning.

    He said that the company has done some internal tests and those indicate the fuel savings are roughly 12.8%.

    My take: That is absolutely stunning. The next gen engines (geared turbofans, etc.) apparently save about 16%. This fuel additive is in the same savings ballpark and costs a minuscule amount of the billions of dollars that the new engine development costs.

    Remarkable. Now, can I invest in them?

  26. I can understand why BA want do it but if all the pilots never took the jobs that was offered and the cabin crew as well, then BA would have the bigger problem, other airlines are cutting down on wages but only for a short time, so why has BA not done the same, as for me I like using BA for my flights and i would never ever use Ryanair to go anywhere, plus Ryanair doesn’t do long haul which all of my flights are,

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