A million travellers face having their Christmas travel plans wrecked after British Airways cabin crew voted unanimously in favour of strike action. The walk out will start on 22 December, just three days before Christmas, and staff will not return to work until January 2.
People caught out by a strike next week will have little prospect of finding flights with other carriers because of the seasonal rush.
The airline is now facing its first strike since 1997, rounding off its “annus horribilus”. More than 12,000 cabin crew could walk out over job losses and changes to work practices, creating chaos for both the airline and passengers during one of the busiest weeks of the year.
Last year the airline carried 1.6 million people over the Christmas break. The industrial action will mean the cancellation of flights, wrecking passengers’ travel plans.
The strike will also come as a bitter financial blow to cash-strapped BA. When flights are cancelled, it would normally offer a refund, travel on an alternative date or rebook customers on another carrier.
However the latter option will prove a mad chase for the last few available seats at a peak holiday period.
Even if cabin crew stop short of an all-out strike, any industrial action will still cause considerable disruption to the airline’s operations.
It would leave planes and crew in the wrong place, triggering a wave of further cancellations and delays even on days when industrial is not taking place.
However Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, has said that the airline is facing a fight for survival at a time when the aviation industry as a whole has faced its worst crisis since September 11.
Last month, BA announced plans to cut a further 1,200 jobs in an attempt to cut costs.
It also wants to cut the number of cabin crew from 15 to 14 on all long-haul flights, and freeze pay for two years.
Union leaders said the decision to strike had been taken “with a heavy heart” following a 92.4 per cent majority of its members voting in favour of industrial action.
The majority of BA’s 13,000 cabin crew, who already earn twice as much as their contemporaries at Virgin Atlantic with an average wage of £29,900, are expected to walk out.
By comparison, easyJet’s average crew wage is £20,200 and Virgin Atlantic’s just £14,400.
BA said last night: “Our package is very fair and reasonable, providing opportunities for part-time working and pay rises of between 2 per cent and 7 per cent for 75 per cent of crew.”
“We have been talking to all our staff about ways we can address the issue. In terms of cabin crew we put together a package of changes which protects cabin crew.”
The blow comes as trustees of BA’s two pension schemes have told the airline that the schemes now have a combined deficit of £3.7bn.
This is certain to lead to a big increase in the contributions BA must pay to the pension funds each year.