Simon Calder: The season of ill will towards travellers

"Joyful, all ye nations rise," as the opening verse of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" implores, "Join the triumph of the skies."

Hang on, refrained one million people for four days this week, we're not sure if we can. That was the ludicrous situation that prevailed from the moment the British Airways cabin-crew strike was announced last Monday until the High Court decision on Thursday afternoon that the union's strike ballot was flawed.

Almost everyone was astonished that the union, Unite, chose the nuclear option, aimed at wiping out BA's entire Christmas and New Year schedule from Heathrow and Gatwick.

The airline had spent weeks drawing up contingency plans to operate some flights, flown by pilots who would cross picket lines and cabin crew who were prepared to work through the strike. But until the carrier had worked out exactly which "BA Lite" flights would take off, it could not offer refunds. Any passengers who bought an alternative flight will now be out of pocket.

Each day that the saga dragged on, the stress on prospective travellers increased.

While some people are relaxed about last-minute plans, even the most laid-back traveller with a priceless family gathering or long-awaited winter holiday can be forgiven for getting anxious when, with five days to go, it was still unclear if the airline's departures for the year would end abruptly next Monday evening.

What we know now that we didn't know last Monday morning: how poisonous relations are between the airline and its cabin crew; how well rewarded, compared with their counterparts at other airlines, are BA's cabin crew; and how it feels to be a standby passenger for four days not knowing where you will be at Christmas or New Year.

In the midst of this venomous dispute, hundreds of Flyglobespan staff and thousands of the airline's passengers lost, respectively, jobs and holidays as a result of their airline's collapse. Some of those holidaymakers were stranded in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

Had they wandered into the five-star Renaissance Hotel, they may have bumped into some British Airways cabin crew. After working the five-hour overnight flight from Gatwick, BA staff get two or three nights in the hotel, together with £85 per day to cover meals and phone calls home.

Good luck to them: BA cabin crew are professionals providing excellent service, who have negotiated excellent terms. You won't meet any easyJet staff from Gatwick on the Sinai peninsula, because they fly out and back in a day. And the highly competitive aviation market will decide the premium that passengers are prepared to pay for BA. Long may healthy rivalry prevail.

As the recriminations begin, though, I am not convinced that BA management will be warmly congratulated on suppressing this strike. The overwhelming cabin-crew vote was an expression of anger against an airline that is currently losing around £20 a second, yet which has failed to persuade staff of the importance of radical change.

Unless the airline can achieve harmony, some passengers will in future plan important trips on airlines that enjoy more cordial relations with their staff.

Neither do I expect to be warmly welcomed on my now-reinstated flight to Egypt: "BA management lackey" is one of the more polite responses I have received from cabin crew unhappy at my comments. Anyway, wherever you are heading, I hope you arrive happily and safely.

A holy trinity?

Rarely do three entities as divergent as the Socialist Workers Party, the climate-change lobby and dozens of airlines unite in appreciation of industrial action. But the interests of this trinity converged over the BA strike.

Cheery vendors of Socialist Worker handed out leaflets at the cabin crew mass meeting at Sandown Park on Monday, demanding a "Strike over Xmas to defeat Walsh". That was exactly what the union promised.

The plan to ground two-fifths of the flights from the world's aviation hub for a couple of weeks was welcome news for the Copenhagen climate-change conference, since it would have delivered a tangible reduction in the amount of CO2.

And Christmas arrived early for Air France, Lufthansa and squadrons of other airlines, when desperate BA passengers bought extra flights; last Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic sold one long-haul flight every 15 seconds, while easyJet offered BA's gold-card holders free "Speedy Boarding" as a bribe for switching to the no-frills airline.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital