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British Airways uses redundancy threat to push all cabin crew into low-paid ‘Mixed Fleet’

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More information is coming to light about the British Airways cabin crew redundancy programme we covered on Wednesday.

There is a cunning plan which is designed to achieve what the airline has been seeking for many years – moving all Heathrow cabin crew onto a single (low wage) contract with just one fleet.

How are BA cabin crew structured at present?

Britihs Airways currently has three cabin crew fleets at Heathrow.  There is a legacy short-haul fleet, a legacy long-haul fleet and the new ‘Mixed Fleet’.

All new entrants since 2010 have been in ‘Mixed Fleet’.  These crew members fly a mix of long-haul and short-haul, are on very low salaries (around £13,000 per year plus allowances for new joiners) and are predominantly young.  They tend to work for the airline for a few years ‘to see the world’ before moving on to more settled and better paid work elsewhere.

The two legacy fleets – Eurofleet and Worldwide – comprise everyone who was hired before ‘Mixed Fleet’ was launched.  These are predominantly older and more experienced members of crew, often BA ‘lifers’, who are paid substantially more money than ‘Mixed Fleet’ and have better contract terms (eg longer layovers during flights).  Staff work exclusively on either long-haul or short-haul routes.  Many long-haul crew members live outside London because they will only do a handful of flights per month.

This article is not a discussion about the customer service merits of the three fleets, for clarity.  I am just outlining how the situation at Heathrow works.

British Airways cabin crew redundancies

As legacy crew members retire or leave, the roll of ‘Mixed Fleet’ expands.  Routes are taken away from the legacy fleets and given to ‘Mixed Fleet’.  However, whilst ‘Mixed Fleet’ is now a decade old, Eurofleet and Worldwide still have a majority at Heathrow.  The attractive contracts mean that attrition is relatively low and there are rules in place to stop legacy crews being given the least attractive routes.

The current staff numbers at Heathrow are:

Eurofleet: 1,853 (25% in senior roles)

Worldwide: 6,382 (25% in senior roles)

Mixed Fleet: 6,027 (14% in senior roles)

Total envisaged redundancies are 4,700.

In both cost and admin terms, running three separate fleets is not easy for British Airways.  At Heathrow, for example, the airline needs to keep multiple sets of standby crew available covering all three fleets.  There were undoubtedly plans sitting in a drawer on how to deal with this, and there will never be a better time to execute them.

Cabin crew have been emailed to say that the airline is looking to create a new, single cabin crew fleet at Heathrow.  All crew would fly a mix of short-haul and long-haul.  There would be a new simplified onboard supervisory structure (ie fewer senior roles).

This clearly won’t end well.

Members of Eurofleet would have to begin long-haul flying, which may not suit those with families or other responsibilities, as well as taking a substantial pay cut and potentially having their role downgraded 

Members of Worldwide would have to begin short-haul flying, which is impossible for those who do not live in the South East, as well as taking a substantial pay cut and potentially having their role downgraded

‘Mixed Fleet’ could potentially benefit as there may be some uplift in pay – you couldn’t cut Eurofleet or Worldwide pay fully down to the levels of ‘Mixed Fleet’

There is no guarantee that the cabin crew unions will support these moves, of course.  They will press for voluntary redundancies first, across both fleets.  Realistically, of course, with the airline running very few flights, what power do the unions have?  Even if all Eurofleet and Worldwide crew members went on strike, it would make no difference to British Airways who would be able to run their much-reduced schedules for the next few months without anyone even noticing.

Historically, the only thing that would have worked in favour of the crew is the sheer cost of redundancies for Eurofleet and Worldwide.  One legacy cabin crew member I know was offered £40,000 in the last round of voluntary redundancies, which she rejected.  Everyone in Eurofleet and Wordwide has AT LEAST 10 years British Airways service – except for a handful who came from BMI in 2012 – and is well paid.

However, as you can see here, from a letter sent to cabin crew by British Airways:

British Airways cabin crew redundancy

…… anyone made redundant now will only receive the legal minimum redundancy pay allowed.

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