Recently 90% of British Airways’ 4,300 pilots started a long-threatened strike. Almost all of BA’s 1,700 flights had to be cancelled and around 200,000 people had their travel plans disrupted. The first pilots’ strike in BA’s 45-year history has arisen over a dispute about pay: BA had offered its pilots an increase of 11.5% over three years – but their union is holding out for a slice of company profits. Although BA pilots are already paid up to £167,000 a year (plus allowances), they reckon their remuneration is “out of kilter” with other big European airlines such as Air France-KLM and Lufthansa. (Daily Mail)
This dispute is a symptom of a wider malaise afflicting BA. Under CEO Álex Cruz there have been a string of tech-related disasters: a power cut in 2017 left 75,000 passengers stranded; a data hack in 2018 leaked 380,000 customers’ details; a check-in failure in August resulted in 130 flights being cancelled and 300 others delayed. As a result, BA’s share price is down 40% since January last year – and its reputation is in free fall: according to one report, it is now the world’s 55th favourite airline, out of 65; another put it 27th out of 28 for value, ahead only of Ryanair. It all confirms “what many BA travellers know already”, said Simon Kelner in the I newspaper – that “the service, reliability and public image” of the UK’s flagship airline have all been “steadily degraded”. (Graeme Paton in The Times).
Ten years ago, when BA was loss-making, pilots allowed the airline to recalibrate their pay scale: partly as a result, most pilots earn way below the much-quoted £167,000pa. Add in the fact that many have training debts of up to £100,000 to pay off, and you see why they now feel entitled to a share of the record pre-tax profit of close to £2.5bn that BA made last year. Moreover, Cruz, the Spanish CEO, gets a handsome £1.3m which somewhat dwarfs their own. But if IAG, which owns not only BA but Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus, gives BA gives its pilots a profit share, pilots from those other airlines will want one too. But at this rate, if passengers are daily alienated, there’ll be no profits to argue about. (The Week,14 September 2019)
My comment: at one time British Airways was effectively owned by the public, and operated as both a national flagship and an agency of public service, like the railways and the mail service, albeit not particularly profitably. BA is just another example of the reduction in government involvement in the economy and the use of the proceeds to reduce taxes on the rich. I believe it is part of the Epicurean ethos that government should operate for the benefit of all the people. At any rate, this drive to privatise everything in sight has been. disaster, like the trains. I can personally attest to the fact that BA is breathtakingly badly (privately) managed, has no clue as to how to treat customers, and seems to have a staff morale that cannot sink any lower. Are there still any apologists for privatisation?