British Airways cancels virtually all flights on day one of pilot strike

More walkouts planned over pay dispute, with no resolution in sight

The start of a 48-hour walkout by British Airways pilots forced the national carrier to cancel virtually all flights on Monday, with no sign of a resolution ahead of more planned strikes.

Heathrow Terminal 5, BAs main operating hub, was almost deserted, when it would normally be bustling with passengers. BA carries about 145,000 passengers on an average day.

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Only five BA flights were expected to operate out of about 800 that would normally be scheduled after its first ever pilot strike, called by the union Balpa in a long-running pay dispute. Two of the flights were leases, where the plane and crew are hired under another operator, and the other three are understood to have been flown by non-Balpa pilots in BAs management team.

Quick guide

What are your rights when flights are cancelled or delayed?

When an airline starts cancelling or delaying flights for more than three hours, passengers are entitled to compensation of 250-600 (230-550) under EU rules.

The cause of the problem has to be under the airlines control and not an extraordinary circumstance. Lack of planes/staff, flight overbooking, a strike by airline staff or an IT failure are all considered to be within the airlines control so compensation is payable.

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Passengers on cancelled short-haul flights up to 1,500km are entitled to 250 or 230. For flights of 1,500km-3,500km, passengers are entitled to 400, and 600 for the longest flights (more than 3,500km).

Compensation is also payable if the plane is delayed. The payments are the same but only kick in when the plane has been delayed three hours for short flights or four hours for the longer trips. The delay is calculated against the time the plane was due to arrive.

Passengers are also entitled to assistance under the EU rules. Short-haul passengers should receive food and water after two hours. Mid-distance passengers get help after three hours, while long-haul passengers receive it after they have been held in the terminal for four hours. If the delay is overnight, passengers should be provided with hotel accommodation but this often does not happen. This assistance should be provided irrespective of whether the delay is the airlines fault.

The airlines have fought these compensation rules since they were introduced and passengers have had to go to court to get their money. The airlines frequently blame delays on events outside their control. Freak weather events or a last-minute strike by air traffic controllers are deemed to be outside their control. A lack of planes or staff is not.

The rules only apply to EU-based airlines or all flights that start in the EU on non-EU based carriers. What will happen after Brexit is not yet clear.Miles Brignall

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Balpa has rejected a pay rise of 11.9% over three years, arguing for a profit share for its members, who have accepted cuts to pay and pensions in previous years but now argue they should get more because the company is posting record profits.

The BA chief executive, lex Cruz, called for unconditional talks to continue but Balpa said the airline had refused to commit to meaningful negotiations.

BA had spent weeks contacting passengers to offer refunds or to rebook travel to another date or airline since 23 August, when the strike dates were announced.

Some of the few travelling through Terminal 5 at Heathrow on Monday morning described BAs home base as a ghost town.

Sean Joffe (@seanjoffe)

Heathrow terminal 5 is a ghost town with the BA pilot strike, only ten flights expected all day. Many retail stores are closed. What an absolute pleasure to breeze through the airport, so peaceful.

September 9, 2019

While BA was criticised as customers initially struggled to get through to call centres and some were wrongly advised their flights were cancelled, the airline said it had fielded almost 400,000 calls to help customers. Operational problems could continue after the strike because planes and pilots need to be in position for subsequent journeys.

BA is expected to start confirming cancellations for late September in the next couple of days, with a further Balpa strike due on 27 September, should the standoff continue.

Cruz told BBC Radio 4s Today programme: The commitment of everyone at British Airways is to get over this particular dispute as quickly as possible. We urge the union to please sit down with us as quickly as we can so that we can reach an agreement.

The Balpa general secretary, Brian Strutton, said BA needed to wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard.

He said: Theyve previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits.

BA must now put the needs of its staff and passengers first and accept that its pilots will not be bullied or fobbed off.

The companys leaders, who themselves are paid huge salaries and have generous benefits packages, wont listen, are refusing to negotiate and are putting profits before the needs of passengers and staff.

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Cruz was paid 1.3m in 2018, when BAs parent firm, IAG, made annual profits of 2.9bn (2.6bn), about 80% of which came from BA itself.

Balpa has estimated that the strike will cost BA 40m a day.

BA has said that its pay offer would result in some pilots earning more than 200,000 a year, including allowances, by 2022. However, the union said most pilots earn far less.

One striking BA pilot, writing anonymously in the Guardian, said he felt hugely conflicted but said pilots were not being respected for their loyalty and given credit for additional work.

He said: In the last 10 or 20 years, pilot workloads have significantly increased and at the same time our pay and pension has been significantly reduced. During all of this process weve been told the increased productivity was necessary to ensure our future and create sufficient profit to be able to reinvest.

The investment in new aircraft, seats and service levels have all had much publicity. The share buybacks and shareholder dividends, not so much but they have been substantial, as have the eye-watering increases in senior management remuneration.

We feel the potentially below-inflation pay offer, as the company makes record profits, does not respect our previous loyalty.

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