Why are British Airways pilots supporting the new low cost carrier at Gatwick?
Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.
On Thursday we broke the story that British Airways was planning to launch a new low cost subsidiary at London Gatwick Airport.
The new carrier would replace the existing British Airways short-haul operation. At present, it isn’t clear if it will be branded ‘British Airways’ with standard BA service, or some variant of ‘British Airways’ (eg ‘BA Baby’) or something completely different (‘Cruz’?).
The letter sent to British Airways staff made it clear that staff terms and conditions were in the firing line. So why is BALPA, the BA pilot union, so keen?
BALPA issued a statement on Thursday which said:
“BALPA cautiously welcomes this decision to restart BA short haul operations at LGW and create a number of much needed new pilot jobs.
“BALPA and BA are in the final stages of negotiations over the revised pay and conditions for Gatwick based BA pilots and we hope to bring these talks to a conclusion shortly.”
This doesn’t sound like a union which is worried about its members getting shafted with degraded terms and conditions.
There is a good reason for this. They won’t be.
Based on discusions I have had with two BA pilots who are regular HfP readers, this is the current position:
- the pilots will NOT be employed by the new low cost carrier – they will be employed by British Airways and seconded to the new airline
- they will retain their position on the BA ‘seniority list’, the hugely complex internal pilot ranking system which decides which pilots get to choose the flights they want and who ends up with the remnants
- terms and conditions will be generally unchanged, apart from necessary changes to reflect the seasonality of the Gatwick operation (ie fewer hours in Winter, potentially resulting in lower overall pay than they received at Heathrow)
- pilots will have some sort of priority for short haul jobs which come up at Heathrow
I understand that jobs will be offered first to existing British Airways short-haul pilots who wish to move from Heathrow for some reason.
If more are required, new jobs will be offered to those who were made redundant last year and those on the Community Retention Scheme. This pool contains 300 pilots who are not flying but who continue to be paid – not by BA but via a salary deduction from those who are in the air.
These are, I should stress, still proposals at this point with no final agreement made with the airline.
The risk, of course, is that by supporting the launch of this new airline, BALPA is setting in train a series of events which will negatively impact all of its members. At some point British Airways will start hiring new pilots for the low cost carrier for less than it is paying at Heathrow, and the airline may eventually find an excuse to impose the same terms on existing pilots.
If pilot costs are not coming down, what is left?
You would, at this point, be forgiven for wondering exactly what costs are going to be cut to make this new carrier even leaner than the old Gatwick operation.
There is minimal movement possible in fleet, fuel and landing costs. BA’s distribution system is an existing fixed cost, unless it adds cost by launching a new brand and website. Ground staff at Gatwick were already outsourced. Pilot salaries are not going to change, unless hours change, because they will be secondees from mainline BA.
You could look at cabin crew costs, but pre-covid Gatwick crew were already paid less than their Heathrow colleagues. Realistically there is very little to cut here. Staff travel and other flying perks have a low cash cost to fulfill.
If the British Airways brand is retained, it is likely that Club Europe, lounges, free snacks and water, Avios, checked through baggage, elite benefits etc will need to remain too. This adds cost.
If a new brand is introduced, costs can be lower (no Avios, no lounges, no snacks, no connecting baggage, no elite benefits) but ticket sales and / or average fares will also be lower. People who would have flown BA are likely to choose easyJet over a new IAG airline with an unknown name.
Lufthansa has tried doing something similar with Eurowings. It has been a financial disaster. Iberia Express is, admittedly, doing better but it doesn’t face the same level of competition as ‘BA Express’ would face at Gatwick from easyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (March 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
SPECIAL OFFER: Successfully apply for either of the Barclaycard Avios credit cards by 2nd April 2023 and you will be entered into a free draw to win ONE MILLION AVIOS! Full details are on the application forms here (free) and here (paid). This competition is exclusive to Head for Points readers. T&C apply.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard
25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 Read our full review
Barclaycard Avios Mastercard
5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review
There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review
British Airways American Express
5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
30,000 points and unbeatable travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Run your own business?
We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review
You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review
There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.
Until 30th March 2023, the sign up bonus on American Express Business Platinum is increased to 120,000 Membership Rewards points – click here. The bonus on American Express Business Gold is increased to 60,000 Membership Rewards points – click here. T&C apply, see the application forms for details.
American Express Business Platinum
Crazy 120,000 points bonus (to 30th March) and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review
American Express Business Gold
60,000 points sign-up bonus (to 30th March) and free for a year Read our full review
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.