British Airways Will Fly Majority of Routes as Strike Concludes
British Airways Plc, Europe’s third-largest airline, will operate the “vast majority” of the carrier’s flights from its London Heathrow base today after a second walkout by cabin crew ended at midnight.
The carrier canceled hundreds of trips when flight attendants followed a three-day strike that began March 20 with a further four-day stoppage. British Airways faces the threat of further industrial action next month if it can’t forge a resolution to the dispute with 12,000 workers over pay and staffing levels.
The seven days of strikes probably cost British Airways as much as 75 million pounds ($113 million), according to Andrew Light, a London-based analyst at Citigroup. The airline, which hasn’t provided a full estimate, says it will log a record 600 million-pound pretax loss for the fiscal year ending today after demand for air travel slumped.
“We are quickly coming into the high season, so they have to solve this issue before then,” said Yan Derocles, a Paris- based analyst at Oddo Securities. “They don’t have a lot of time to resolve this strike.”
“We want British Airways now to come back to the table,” Woodley told workers late yesterday at a rally at the Trades Union Congress, which has been acting as an arbiter. “Let’s get our people back to work.”
Woodley and Walsh haven’t met since last-ditch negotiations to avert a strike broke down March 19.
“We can but hope, we can but wait” for talks to resume, Unite Assistant General Secretary Len McCluskey said yesterday. No meetings are scheduled, he added.
British Airways has said the first two days of the most recent walkout cost the carrier 11 million pounds, adding to 21 million pounds it spent to keep planes in the air during the initial three-day strike. The stoppage is the first at the London-based airline since 1997.
The carrier will operate “the vast majority of flights” from Heathrow today, spokesman James von der Fecht said in a telephone interview. Some flights may be canceled as BA realigns its fleet following the disruptions, and a normal schedule should be operating this weekend, von der Fecht said.
British Airways has gained 18 percent in London trading since Feb. 22, when the Unite union said flight attendants had voted to strike, suggesting investors may be dismissing losses as a one-time cost and supporting Walsh in his attempt to reduce expenses and improve efficiency.
Citigroup’s Light, who had earlier forecast a cost of 105 million pounds from the strike, said BA flew more routes during the work stoppage than he had assumed. The estimate doesn’t include potential lost revenue in April if the strike threat continues, he said.
Under U.K. labor law, the strike mandate allows Unite to resume walkouts no later than April 15. The union must give seven days’ notice, so a walkout would need to be called by April 8, giving a window of more than a week in which talks could take place. The mandate can be extended with BA’s approval, something usually done when talks are progressing.
The union says any settlement must include the restoration of travel perks that Walsh has stripped from striking employees, a move that may make work journeys unviable for 1,500 flight attendants employed in the U.K. but resident abroad. The CEO has withdrawn a previous pay offer, saying any proposal must now be modified to account for the cost of the strike.
Travel in Britain may be disrupted further from April 6 when rail-maintenance and signaling workers plan to strike for four days in a dispute over job cuts and changes to working conditions. The action would affect the journeys of 3.5 million people in the first shutdown of the network since 1994.
Network Rail Ltd., the state-backed track owner, said it will seek an injunction today to prevent the signaling workers from striking, and will continue talking to the maintenance employees.
In the first two days of the just-ended airline walkout, British Airways operated 83 percent of its long-haul schedule and 67 percent of European flights, the airline said in a statement March 29. More than 118,000 passengers were transported, an increase of 37 percent compared with the previous weekend.
British Airways is also on the verge of announcing a definitive agreement on a proposed merger with Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA, both airlines have said. The U.K. and Spanish carriers set a goal of the end of the first quarter to sign a deal that would be completed by early November.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association issued a statement yesterday welcoming the tie-up. Keith Bill, a spokesman for the group, said he didn’t know whether an agreement has been reached.
British Airways spokeswoman Laura Goodes said yesterday that there is “no change” in the merger schedule.