BA’s 12 Days of Christmas… A million expats may not get home for Xmas

British Airways staff union, Unite, announced yesterday that staff of the airline had voted in favor of a national strike at Christmas that would commence on the 22nd December for a total of 12 days.

Thousands of British Airways stewards and stewardesses have made clear their intentions to strike over the Christmas period. Leaders from The British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa), a section of the Unite union, revealed that over 12,700 members of staff of the airline had taken part in a ballot and 92 % of them had voted overwhelming in favor of strike action.

The strike action is planned in response to management plans to cut over 1,700 cabin crew jobs in a bid to reduce operating costs by up to 140 million GBP. BA plans are reported to include a 2-year basic pay freeze and over 1,000 job redundancies. Staffing levels on flights from Heathrow will be reduced from 15 to 14. Unite argue that these actions will change BA into a budget airline and will place unreasonable demands on airline staff. BA, however, say that the changes are imperative in order to main their viability as an airline and that urgent cost cutting measures are required in order for them to sustain business during the economic downturn. Last month they revealed losses of 192m GBP in the first half of 2009, BA’s worse period in history.

BA management, who claim that they have consulted unions throughout the streamlining process, are standing by their plans and show no signs of backing down as a result of employee’s threatened actions. Commenting on the ballot results, Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, said: “The changes that we introduced in the middle of November will not be reversed. Those changes enabled us to offer voluntary redundancy to 1,000 cabin crew and those people have left the business.” He also expressed disproval of the employee’s actions: “They have no justification for threatening such extreme action. It is very sad they are seeking to use the Christmas holiday plans and family reunions of hundreds of thousands of people to try to pursue their case.”

It is anticipated that over 900,000 people throughout the world will be impacted by cancelled flights. A significant percentage of these will be expatriates who are looking to return home for the Christmas period.

At present no further negotiations are scheduled between the airline and Unite and it appears that both sides are standing firm. BA executives stated that they did have a contingency plan that could be implemented if the strikes go ahead, but refused to give further details until they had received formal notification of the planned strike action. Steve Turner, a Unite representative, indicated that the Christmas strikes would be part of wider ranging industrial action, “We do not need to ballot again. It is the first in a whole series of strikes.” However, he did also state that the strike could potentially be avoided if Willie Walsh were to return to the negotiating table with Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, the union’s joint secretaries.

Christmas Travel Advice: How will the strike affect you?

Should I book an alternative flight?

The travel association, Abta, have advised people that, in the short term, they should wait for further developments as opposed to immediately trying to book with an alternative airline, many of whom will have already been booked up for the Christmas period. Simon Calder, of the Independent newspaper told the BBC that, “there are no seats available on most other airlines, if you do find alternative seats it is going to cost you a fortune.”

When will I know if my flight is cancelled?

At present BA are waiting for formal notification of the strikes from the Union. They will then announce further plans. There is always a chance that the strikes will be delayed or that negotiations may recommence. It is also possible that passengers will only be given a few hours notice of any strike action.

If my flight is cancelled will I receive a refund?

If the strikes do go ahead and BA are unable to maintain your flight then they will offer a refund, an alternative departure date or will attempt to secure passengers a seat on another airline. The likelihood is, however, that because of the high volumes of traffic over the Christmas period, alternative flights will not be available.

What are my rights?

By law you are entitled to a full refund in the event that your flight is officially cancelled and BA is unable to find you a suitable alternative. Although, according to EU law, you are entitled to compensation up to 540 GBP for a delayed long haul flight, it is highly unlikely that you will be offered any additional compensation.

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