Inside Travel: How will the BA cabin crew strikes affect me?

  • @SimonCalder

Q. When will the strike take place?

From next Tuesday, 18 May, to Wednesday 9 June – though with three single days of respite on 23 and 29 May, and on 4 June. The cabin crew union, Unite, has chosen to spread 20 days' of strike action across four weeks – knowing that the airline will not be able to recover its operations on the three "days off", and that the impact will begin before Tuesday and continue for several days after the strike ends.

Q. Will my flight be grounded?

Probably not. In the last two sets of strikes, lasting seven days in March, around three-quarters of BA passengers travelled where and when they expected. If you are flying from Gatwick or London City, your flight will go ahead as normal (erupting volcanoes permitting). Support for the strike at Gatwick has evaporated, and London City is covered by different agreements.

BA's main base, of course, is Heathrow. The airline says "most flights will operate normally"; the leading candidates for cancellations are the usual UK suspects (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle), plus Paris and Brussels; these are first to be axed, as terrestrial alternatives are readily available. Long-haul flights with multiple frequencies, such as New York and Hong Kong, could be combined. BA expects more cabin crew will break the strike and show up for work than last time. In addition, the airline has trained more than 1,000 "Volunteer Cabin Crew", described by the union as "scab labour" or "scabin crew".

Q. I have a "code-share" flight – will I take off?

That all depends whose name is on the plane, or more specifically, on the ticket. "Operated by: Iberia" means your luck is in (but not completely, if you are not a fan of the Spanish airline's dismal inflight service). Your flight should take off; the same applies if the ticket says it is operated by Aer Lingus, or Finnair, or Qantas, or ...

The converse also applies, though: you may have booked with Qantas, Iberia, etc, but if it is a BA flight then it could potentially be hit by the strike.

Q. The airline says I could experience "a different style of onboard service". What might that be?

Short-haul, you could find yourself aboard a "wet-leased" flight – on a jet chartered in from airlines such as Ryanair and Jet2. Most planes do not have business class; Club Europe passengers will be eligible for "downgrade compensation". You should still get complimentary food and drink. Long haul, your flight may offer a "simplified" inflight service, which means more basic catering. Pre-ordered special meals will not be available.

Q. How do I find out if my flight is affected?

Check at – though at present only those affected by the first five days can find out if their flight has been cancelled; plans for subsequent dates will be revealed gradually. If your flight is not operating, and the airline has not "reprotected" you – ie booked you on another flight – then you can choose to rebook at no extra cost within the next year, or get a refund.

Q. But I desperately need to get there...

Then you will join the thousands seeking certainty by switching to easyJet, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and dozens of foreign airlines. These airlines cannot believe their good fortune: strike threats have hung over BA's operations for the past six months. Fares are rising sharply; if you can find a seat, expect to pay a small fortune for it.

Q. Will the strike effect me if I'm not with BA?

Yes. The absence of a significant number of flights from the Heathrow schedules will inevitably mean fare rises on those airlines whose services have not been grounded by the dispute.

Grounded Why strike?

Q What is the strike about?

Originally, cabin crew were angered at the airline's reduction of crewing levels on flights from Heathrow to the same standards as Gatwick. The first strike call was against "new working practices". The airline has since raised the temperature by withdrawing staff travel perks from every crew member who went on strike in March. At the root of the problem is that BA's cabin crew cost far more to employ than rivals – partly because of good salaries, partly because of arcane agreements signed by management over the years. While Unite has offered a wide range of concessions, BA's chief executive does not believe they will lead to sufficient long-term savings.