Grant Shapps grilled about travel chaos in UK airports
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The pilot, who asked to remain anonymous, painted a bleak picture of life at the airline. They claimed morale has never been lower, a huge number of senior staff are poised to leave and pilots are suffering from burnout.
After what they saw as mismanagement during the pandemic and the ‘knee jerk’ shedding of huge numbers of staff, they claimed BA was struggling to get its services running to pre-Covid-19 levels.
The pilot predicted that more flights would be grounded this summer, on top of the 10% of services BA has already cancelled from March to October this year.
“A pilot I was speaking to the other day said he hadn’t been worked this hard in 15 years at the company,” the BA employee told the Mirror. “We’re full on at the moment. There are not many happy people right now. It is a perfect storm.”
The pilot explained how massively reduced demand triggered by the pandemic caused the industry go into ‘money saving mode’.
“An airline isn’t a charity, they’re there to protect the share holders, but it’s been pretty cut throat,” the pilot continued. “They cut all the jobs that they wanted to cut and furloughed everyone. When demand slowly came back, it was mixed in with the government strategy to restart the aviation industry, which was appalling.”
The BA worker said a combination of the confusing and expensive testing regime, Brexit uncertainty and regular rule changes by the government had caused huge uncertainty across airlines.
When the brakes were suddenly taken off earlier this year and the vast majority of countries reopened, BA was not ready to get its services running at full-tilt again, the pilot claimed.
“We had no warning as an industry,” they said. “For me, being fully back online, you need two months’ warning. The industry was given weeks. There was no time. That time frame is for someone who is on the company books and has experience. To do a recruitment campaign and then training and security checks, that takes months.”
Many of the pilot’s colleagues left during the pandemic and found better work for themselves, with easier hours and higher pay, they said.
“The airlines didn’t realise people would go,” they continued. “The blame is across the whole industry.”
“They’re not admitting they’re short on pilots,” they said. “We might be correctly crewed by winter time. There is no chance this will be sorted this summer. The last month (August) might be okay.
“But new staff don’t want to come because they know the pay has been cut and everyone is doing overtime. That’s everyone: baggage handlers, cabin crew, all the rest.”
When asked whether they would advise people to book a holiday this summer, they said: “If you’re looking at going on an easyJet from Gatwick in the school holidays in Alicante, probably not. Maybe midweek out of the school holidays, at a low demand time, yeah go for it.”
The pilot went on to explain how BA workers’ rotas are currently full, meaning they’re unable to take on extra shifts due to strict laws around workloads.
As a result back-up teams held in standby at airports and at their homes were being deployed to cover fatigue and sickness absences, already using up what little slack there is before the summer has begun in proper. The upshot of this is more cancelled flights and more delays, the pilot claimed.
A survey conducted by BA pilots’ union Balpa and shared with the Mirror shows how low morale has sunk among those working at the airline. It found that 65% of pilots planned on leaving within two years, only 12% planned on staying for five years and 90% do not consider BA to be a career airline. A whopping 77.5% are actively looking for work elsewhere.
The BA pilot predicted that 10 to 15% of their colleagues would leave for rival British airline Jet2 when it opens its recruitment drive later this year. They cited better hours and more regular shift patterns – typically two flights a day for four days, followed by five days off, as opposed to BA’s regularly changing rota – as the reason why.
“People are stressed out and they’re leaving,” the pilot said. “Everyone is working so hard. The union has said they have seen very high levels of fatigue reporting.”
The pilot urged BA to do more to fix staffing levels and claimed that the company’s attempt to hire more cabin crew by offering a £1,000 golden hello had had little impact. They went on to say that while conditions were tough, flight teams stuck together and remained close, and described the fact flights were now fully booked as “amazing”.
“It would’ve been even better if the industry had a chance to prepare for this,” they continued. “By the end of the summer the tables will have turned in terms of negotiating terms and conditions for staff. During Covid they had us by the necks.”
A BA spokesperson said: “While it’s disappointing to hear this view from one of our more than four thousand world class pilots, we offer an industry leading career path for our flight crew including the opportunity to work on a range of new aircraft, flying to a variety of global destinations with an extremely competitive salary and package. Because of our approach, we have never had an issue attracting or retaining flight crew.”
BA notes that it offered a 5% pay award this year and says that the package it offers is among the best in the industry, while also bringing attention to its “world class training centre at Heathrow”. It also says that pilots are not flying while fatigued and that cancellations being reported now are included in the 10% reduction from March to October.
A Balpa spokesperson said: “The closure of the company’s Edinburgh base and the severe reduction in terms and conditions made during the Covid pandemic have clearly affected attitudes towards the company. Pilots took these reductions and changes to support the company and protect jobs during very difficult times. These now need to be reversed.
“Several solutions to improve life for BA CityFlyer pilots have been presented to the Company and we strongly encourage the Company to implement these without delay.”
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