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Tue 23 Jul 2019 09:07 AM

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Summer travel chaos for British Airways passengers as pilots vote to strike

Dates for a walkout haven't been finalised, the union said, adding that negotiations are on hold until after the court proceedings

Summer travel chaos for British Airways passengers as pilots vote to strike
Pilots backed action including a walkout with a 93% majority, the British Airline Pilots Association

British Airways pilots voted in favour of industrial action as part of an accelerating pay dispute, laying the groundwork for their first strike in about four decades.

Pilots backed action including a walkout with a 93% majority, the British Airline Pilots Association said in a statement on Monday. British Airways is meanwhile due to appear at the UK’s high court on Tuesday to seek an injunction to halt any strike, which threatens to disrupt the crucial busy summer travel period.

Dates for a walkout haven’t been finalised, the union said, adding that negotiations are on hold until after the court proceedings. The labour group said it remains open to reaching a resolution with the airline, part of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA.

“This strong result demonstrates the resolve of BA pilots, and shows BA that it must table a sensible improved offer if a strike is to be averted,” BALPA General Secretary, Brian Strutton said. “It is BA who has regrettably chosen to drag this out into the summer months.”

A strike, if it goes ahead, would be the company’s first involving pilots since the 1970s. Aviators most recently voted for industrial action in 2008, although the dispute was settled before it led to a walkout.. The current demands relate to pay, profit sharing, and a share-awards program, and come after the cockpit crew took salary cuts in the wake of the financial crisis to help bolster the airline’s finances, according to the union.

“We are very disappointed that BALPA has chosen to threaten the travel plans of thousands of our customers,” a BA spokesman said in emailed comments. “Our proposed pay offer of 11.5% over three years is fair.”

IAG shares reversed earlier gains of as much as 1.9% and traded 0.2% higher at 450.80 pence at the close in London.

Summer of discontent

The dispute highlights the challenges facing European airlines in the middle of the warm-weather vacation season. In addition to possible walkouts, carriers have been hit by flight cancellations due to air traffic controller staff shortages. Ryanair Holdings Plc and Deutsche Lufthansa AG pilots are also weighing possible strike action. Walkouts by cockpit crews are particularly disruptive to airlines because they can ground flights.

Strikes also pose a threat to BA chief executive officer Alex Cruz’s bid to cuts costs and compete with discount rivals such as EasyJet Plc and long-haul operator Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA. BA has already tried to avert action through the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, but talks with the pilots union broke down earlier this month after three days of meetings without an agreement.

Parallel pay talks with BA’s ground staff and cabin crew at two separate unions have been more amicable with representatives recommending to members that they vote to accept management’s pay offer. Ballots at those unions on whether to accept the deal are set to close toward the end of this month.

Meanwhile, UK pilots at Ryanair are scheduled to vote on July 24 on whether to stage walkout, while their Ireland-based counterparts are set to meet Tuesday to decide on putting a similar ballot to members. Cabin crews at Lufthansa have also started a process to decide on taking industrial action.

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