Six days before pilots working for Virgin Atlantic are due to begin a strike, the airline is seeking an injunction to quash the industrial action.
Over 300 pilots working for Virgin – about on third of the total – are members of the Professional Pilots’ Union, which has been seeking recognition from the airline for several years.
But the airline founded by Sir Richard Branson has continued to negotiate only with the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa).
Pilots belonging to the PPU have voted to strike after Virgin Atlantic started negotiating with Balpa over a pilots’ Benefits Review, without consulting the PPU.
The review includes policy regarding cases of long-term sickness, enforced retirement from sickness, death in service payments and widow’s pensions.
The first strike is due to begin on 22 December and run to Christmas Day, with further strikes over New Year and in early January planned.
Initially Virgin Atlantic said: “Our absolute priority is to ensure that all of our customers can continue their journeys as planned this Christmas, and we’re working hard to protect all of their trips.”
But a new statement suggests that, at one of the busiest – and most lucrative – times of the year, the airline is faced with making cancellations.
A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said: “We can confirm that we are challenging the threatened PPU strike action by seeking an injunction. We have taken this action reluctantly.
“Our priority has to be ensuring our customers can complete their travel plans this Christmas. We have been in regular talks with ACAS [the conciliation service] since late November to try and find a resolution to this dispute, and we encourage the PPU to engage in discussion rather than disruption.
“We are finalising plans seeking to ensure all our customers can continue their journeys this Christmas regardless of the industrial action.”
But the statement suggests that some flights are likely to be affected unless the injunction is successful in compelling pilots to work normally: “We encourage anyone due to travel with us this week to check details of their flight at virginatlantic.com and ensure their contact details are added to their booking.”
When the PPU called the strike, spokesperson Steve Johnson said: “Our door is – and has always been – open to Virgin to take the necessary steps to prevent any disruption for Christmas travellers.
“This is such an easy fix for the company; by including all unions in negotiations – not just one selected by the company – it can then live up to its claimed inclusiveness.”
Virgin Atlantic has promised to share further details of its contingency planning on Monday. It could move some passengers to alternative departures, but in the build-up to Christmas most flights are very heavily booked.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies