Should Airline Pilots be Allowed to Strike?

Passengers are facing the threat of peak season travel disruption due to a proposed British Airways pilots’ strike. An ongoing row over pay has led to the possibility of the pilot walkout later this month.

A bid by airline bosses to stop the strike by taking the pilots’ union to court on a legal technicality failed. This has given the pilots free rein to walk out – ruining thousands of passengers’ travel and summer holiday plans.

There has been an on-going dispute about pilots’ salaries and how they think they should be earning more money. British Airways is a repeat offender when it comes to going on strike at the busiest times of the year, leaving a lot of holidaymakers very disappointed.


© Dmitry Birin /


“Poverty” pay strike

In 2017, BA cabin crew went on strike, claiming they received “poverty” wages. Members of the Unite union were protesting over pay and general conditions. The strike began on 19th July 2017 and initially lasted for 14 days. Passengers received a fresh blow, when another fortnight was added to the strike – it ran until 15th August. It then continued further, as BA bosses and union chiefs tried to thrash out a deal.

The strike ruined thousands of travellers’ summer holiday plans, but eventually ended in victory for the cabin crew, when they negotiated a new pay deal. By the end of October 2017, after they had been on strike for a total of 85 days, it was announced that the strike was to end following a ballot.


When might the strike start?

So what should passengers expect if a pilots’ strike does take place this summer? This time, it’s the British Airline Pilots’ Association union (BALPA) that’s leading the industrial action.

Although BALPA leaders say “idle speculation” about the possible start date worries passengers “unnecessarily”, it has been suggested in the media that the strike would start on or around 24th August.

Some 4,000 flight crew who are union members have voted to support a strike. Around 4,500 BA pilots are BALPA members and 90% of them voted, with the overwhelming majority of 93% supporting a strike. Only 500 pilots are not BALPA members.


What’s the strike all about?

BA says it has offered a salary increase way above the inflation rate: an 11.5% increase over the next three years. On the surface, this seems like a good deal when compared to other sectors, such as nurses, who are to receive an increase of 6.5% over three years.

The two other unions representing flight crews, Unite and GMB, have accepted the pay deal and it’s only BALPA that has turned it down.

BALPA has responded that there’s more to the pay offer than meets the eye and claims BA is taking “other money” away from members. The union says it “can’t be that good a deal” if 93% of the BALPA members who voted want to go on strike.


Which flights will be affected?

The dispute will affect flights to and from Heathrow and Gatwick. It doesn’t involve the London City-based City Flyer operation.

According to press speculation, the routes that might be most affected include the Singapore to Sydney section of British Airways’ Australian route and the links served by BA’s partner airlines. These include any points in the United States served by American Airlines, the Heathrow to Doha route, where BA’s part-owner, Qatar Airways, runs numerous daily flights, and Heathrow to Barcelona and Madrid. Other at-risk services could be Heathrow to Geneva, although it’s possible these services could be combined with larger aircraft, with some level of continuity maintained.

Some services, such as Heathrow to Miami, could be prioritised because of the exceptionally high number of passengers jetting off to join cruises.

However, in the bleakest scenario, around 700 British Airways’ flights per day could be cancelled, affecting thousands of passengers and causing much disruption. BA has also said it won’t be able to roster pilots to bring people back from overseas if the return trip is on a strike day, leaving people stranded abroad after their holiday.


Should pilots be allowed to strike?

After the vote in favour of the strike, BA had applied for a High Court injunction to stop it from happening, citing legal technicalities relating to the ballot, but the judge refused BA’s application and subsequent appeal – leaving the pilots free to go ahead with the strike.

This begs the question of whether airline pilots should be allowed to strike? Passengers have worked long and hard all year round to pay for their flight and summer holiday, so should the pilots be allowed to simply walk out, scuppering thousands of people’s travel plans?

Although the official line from BALPA is that the union hasn’t yet decided whether to strike, the threat of disruption looms over passengers’ heads, causing them stress and worry at what should be an exciting time leading up to their summer break.

No-one knows exactly how many pilots would actually strike. Over the past decade, when BA cabin crew have gone on strike, not all of them have supported it and even some union members have continued to work.


Will passengers receive compensation?

Many flights are already fully booked up until the end of August. No announcement has been made yet by BA on what will happen to any passengers affected by industrial action if their flight is grounded.

It would be feasible to offer passengers the option to cancel and receive a full refund, or to postpone their trip and re-book it after the strike has ended. When BA has finalised its plans, any affected passengers are likely to be told a few days in advance of their flight.

BA is obliged, under European rules, to get passengers to their destination as soon as possible – buying tickets from other airlines if necessary. Any airline, from EasyJet to Emirates, can be booked for someone whose BA flight is cancelled.

Whatever BA decides to do, it can only spell travel chaos for both passengers and the airline. An airline has a duty of care to passengers and must provide accommodation and meals until the passenger can reach their destination, but passengers’ compensation claims for services they have booked, such as hotels and car rentals, are likely to be blocked by the airline. These are known as “consequential losses” and do not necessarily have to be reimbursed.


Who governs the compensation claims?

The subject of compensation is generally a grey area, although last year, the Civil Aviation Authority ordered Ryanair to compensate passengers affected by a strike to the tune of €250 or €400 each, depending on their destination. It is thought the CAA will do the same again for any passengers affected by the impending BA strike.

Long-haul passengers could be entitled to €600 if their flight is cancelled with less than 14 days’ notice, or if there’s a delay of more than three hours. However, can any of this really compensate for people’s eagerly awaited annual holiday being ruined?

Do you think pilots should be allowed to strike, or should the judge have been more sympathetic to British Airways and refused to allow the pilots to walk out? Do you have sympathy for their pay claim, or do you think public sympathy has been lost because they are messing up everyone’s holiday plans?

Have you had any past experiences of aircraft crew strikes and flights being cancelled? If so, how did the airline deal with it? Share your experiences of airline travel on Psydro’s unique reviews platform and let other travellers know what they might be facing later this month!

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