The first-ever strike by British Airways pilots started at midnight on Sunday night, leading to the cancellation of hundreds of flights and travel disruption for thousands of passengers.
Members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) have said they will walk out for 48 hours in a long-running dispute over pay, with a further strike set for 27 September if the row remains unresolved.
Both BA and Balpa have indicated that they are willing to start new talks. Despite the slight thaw in previously tetchy relations, the vast majority of BA’s flights taking off from the UK on Monday and Tuesday have already been cancelled.
BA has told passengers that if they have a flight booked on Monday and Tuesday, it is likely they will not be able to travel as planned.
BA operates more than 800 flights a day, with most expected to be cancelled, affecting up to 145,000 passengers each day.
Customers have been offered refunds or the option to re-book to another date of travel or alternative airline. It is expected that the problems will continue after the strike, because planes and pilots will need to be in position for subsequent journeys.
Balpa’s general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “British Airways needs to wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard.
“They’ve previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits.
“The company’s leaders, who themselves are paid huge salaries and have generous benefits packages, won’t listen, are refusing to negotiate and are putting profits before the needs of passengers and staff. It is time to get back to the negotiating table and put together a serious offer that will end this dispute,” he said.
BA has offered an 11.5% pay rise over three years, which it said would take the pay of some captains to more than £200,000 a year.
The airline said it believed the pay offer was “fair and generous”, and that it if it was good enough for BA cabin crew, ground staff and engineers – whose unions, Unite and the GMB, have both accepted it – it should be good enough for pilots.
A Balpa statement said: “Fundamentally, BA pilots have lost trust and confidence in their management through relentless cost and corner-cutting.”
One pilot told the Guardian on Friday: “It’s not really about money, it’s about respect. We’ve effectively been lied to. We’ve given up a serious pension scheme, pay and pay rises when the company was weak – all on the promise that when the company was strong and giving up proper returns to its investors, we would benefit.”
Álex Cruz, the company’s chief executive, is currently paid £1.3m. In August BA’s parent firm, IAG, reported a 20% rise in its pre-tax second-quarter profit. In 2018 it reported annual profits of €2.9bn (£2.6bn).
The strike is the latest blow for passengers at an airline that once called itself the “world’s favourite” but has looked increasingly accident-prone.
In July a computer systems glitch meant that more than 500 flights were cancelled or delayed, causing problems for tens of thousands of passengers. In 2017 a power cut left 75,000 passengers stranded. Pilots and crew said they were left to deal with the fallout, which went on for several days.
The Civil Aviation Authority has said passengers have a legal right to a replacement flight at BA’s expense to get them to their destination, even if this means travelling with a different airline.