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CONFIRMED: British Airways closes Gatwick short-haul, all flights removed from sale

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Five days after we exclusively broke the story that BA pilot union BALPA had refused to support the new low cost model proposed for Gatwick Airport, British Airways has officially pulled the plug.

All Gatwick short-haul flying is now suspended. Flights have been removed from sale.

The only exception will be a handful of domestic services to connect to the banks of long-haul Caribbean departures.

British Airways closes Gatwick short-haul, all flights removed from sale

In a statement to Sky News, BA said:

“After many years of losing money on European flights from the airport, we were clear that coming out of the pandemic, we needed a plan to make Gatwick profitable and competitive.

With regret, we will now suspend our short-haul operations at Gatwick, with the exception of a small number of domestic services connecting to our long-haul operation, and will pursue alternative uses for the London Gatwick short-haul slots.”

In a staff email circulated today, quoted by Sky News, BA states that the terms offered to BALPA were:

“the best that could be achieved in order to create a viable and sustainable operation at London Gatwick”.

BALPA’s acting general secretary, Martin Chalk, said:

“We are disappointed that we couldn’t come to arrangements that were acceptable to our members. We stand ready to work with BA to find such arrangements that could be acceptable.”

Why did BALPA refuse to support the new short haul operation?

As we covered here, the cost of pilots for the new Gatwick operation represented one of the few areas where British Airways felt it could reduce costs.

BALPA would never have allowed the airline to hire new pilots on lower pay. The two sides had been working on a deal which would allow Heathrow Airbus pilots – some currently flying, some in the ‘holding pool’ – to be seconded to the new Gatwick airline. Whilst pay would have been reduced, in line with Gatwick’s more seasonal schedule, pilots would have retained their place on the seniority list and would have a guaranteed path to return to Heathrow in the future.

According to a letter circulated by BALPA last week, which we have seen:

“….. we have been trying to insert a clause in the contract of employment which would have protected the contractual rights of LGW-based pilots by placing an obligation on BA to ensure that Newco complies with any collective agreements or procedures agreed between BALPA and BA.”

In plain English, BALPA wanted Gatwick pilots to automatically receive any pay increase or other benefits negotiated by Heathrow crew.

British Airways closes Gatwick short-haul, all flights removed from sale

BALPA claimed that British Airways had agreed to such an obligation but, when it came to making it legally binding, refused.

BALPA continued:

“we have received an email from BA making it clear that the company is not prepared to include the protection clause we require.”

and concluded:

“we can no longer recommend the proposed LGW shorthaul agreement. As such we have terminated the consultative ballot with immediate effect.”

However …..

It seems that, earlier this week, British Airways came back to the table with a new proposal which addressed these issues. The union has refused to support it, however, because there is no longer any willingness from the pilot body to go along with this plan in any form. A revised proposal put together by the union, with improved pay and scheduling, was apparently rejected by the airline.

It is worth noting that there are no dedicated British Airways short haul pilots at Gatwick, all having taken redundancy, transferred to Heathrow or joined the ‘holding pool’, so the closure will not directly lead to any redundancies. It will impact the remaining furloughed Gatwick short haul cabin crew.

What happens next?

British Airways has a few options up its sleeve.

It could try to revive a BA operation at Gatwick with a new non-unionised pilot fleet, but this would break a legal agreement with BALPA over representation. It would almost certainly lead to a strike that would ground the airline.

The slots could be passed to other IAG carriers such as Aer Lingus, Vueling or LEVEL. With minimal UK brand recognition, however, it is hard to see them succeeding where BA could not.

The final option is a sale of the short haul slots. Wizz Air would pay a handsome price for them, and easyJet would also do whatever was necessary to find the money. It would be a once in a generation opportunity to get a dominant position at London Gatwick.

Oddly, according to Cirum data, BA’s withdrawal won’t have much impact on the reach of Gatwick Airport. There are only four BA routes from Gatwick which are not served by any other Gatwick airline – Algiers, Cologne/Bonn, Genoa and Manchester – and Manchester is likely to remain as a feeder.

The BA call centre is going to be busy though. Cirum notes that, purely for July 2022, British Airways has 1,881 short-haul flights scheduled from Gatwick, with 331,000 seats available. If you were planning to call BA about anything, I’d do it now before the cancellation emails start going out ….

You can read more on Sky News here. British Airways has yet to make a statement.

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Comments (243)

  • Lochlann says:

    Any reason why BA couldn’t franchise the brand a la the South African set-up? Or codeshare with Vueling or Level?

    • Jonny Price says:

      A separate franchise airline could be created like Comair (or even like GB Airways!) but it would need to find the aircraft, people and go through the whole set-up process between now and next summer. I also wonder if the pilot agreement would allow this.

  • Graham Walsh says:

    What is classed as short haul? Would flights to Crete for example still leave Gatwick? This year the flights for HER were from LHR but next year move to LGW. I’d much prefer LHR.

  • NFH says:

    Once Crossrail starts running from central London to LHR, travelling the slower and longer distance to LGW for a short-haul flight will be a comparatively unattractive alternative. For short-haul, LGW will become akin to LTN and STN, not unlike how it was mostly a charter flight airport until the early 1990s.

    • ChrisBCN says:

      Nonsense. Farringdon to Heathrow T5 will take 39 minutes, according to the journey time calculator on the crossrail website.

      Farringdon to Gatwick takes 1 minute longer, 40 minutes. I don’t think that’s materially longer.

      London Bridge to Gatwick takes 30 minutes, Paddington to T5 on crossrail will also take 30 minutes.

      Moral of the story – depends where you start from.

      • NFH says:

        Crossrail previously said that Canary Wharf to LHR would take 39 minutes. I see that this has now increased to 48 minutes. Not so impressive.

      • Dubious says:

        It takes 45 minutes by train to get to Gatwick from my house…but 1hr 40 mins by train to Central London and another 40-50 minutes to Heathrow….Gatwick wins…

    • Sarah says:

      Not if you live in South London. 30 mins to Gatwick from Clapham Junction, 20 mins from East Croydon

    • Susan says:

      People do live outside central London dontcha know. My frequent traveller parents on the south coast have a direct train connection to LGW, getting to Heathrow is a pest.

      • Fenny says:

        Although BA probably fly at slightly less antisocial hours, all these journey times are irrelevant for flight times well before the trains start running in the morning. A 5.40am take off might as well be in Edinburgh if you want to get there the same day from anywhere via public transport. Even a 7 am flight from LGW is only of use if you live 5 minutes from a station on the right line.

  • gareth says:

    What will happen to flights I have booked from lgw short hall next year? Moved to Heathrow?

    • John T says:

      Some routes presumably cut permanently. Destinations like ALG probably won’t restart at LHR…

  • Mickey Mouse says:

    Only British Airways could attempt to have one believe that the viability of an entire operation rests solely upon one workgroup…

    • Jonny Price says:

      It doesn’t – but they had already sorted out the other elements. Ground handling was already outsourced, they could recruit cabin crew on market rate contracts, they could even outsource some of the engineering if it was to support a new entity. The one blocker in the way of making the new operation viable was one workgroup – the overpaid pilots.

      And now BALPA is a laughing stock.

      • Rob says:

        You would have said that if the unions had stopped Mixed Fleet – but they should have because it would have saved cabin crew from the new contracts last year.

      • James D says:

        “they could recruit cabin crew” and “they could even outsource some of the engineering” so they hadn’t sorted out other elements. Curious where you get your incorrect information from and why you have a vendetta against the pilots?

        • Jonny Price says:

          What information was incorrect?

          No vendetta against pilots – I was just making the point that other elements of the cost base had been resolved previously. Pilots were the one remaining cost that was uncompetitive.

          Take cabin crew at Gatwick, for example. Unlike the pilots, they were on market rate contracts pre Covid – many were made redundant when they downsized the Gatwick workforce in 2020, but many would get re-employed on similar T&Cs as before (although they would only be flying shorthaul) if the new subsidiary went ahead.

      • Paul says:

        Paid less than Easy for hours worked with an extremely fatiguing (Colgan Air 3407 anyone?) proposed rostering system.

  • Pilot says:

    “and easyJet would also do whatever was necessary to find the money” – What do you think the 1.2bn raise was for? It was intended to buy any available slots from BA pulling out.

    When easyJet announced the rights issue, everyone said, “why now?” – now you have the answer

  • John T says:

    Isn’t this just a negotiating tactic to get BALPA to come back to the table?

  • J says:

    BA’s interest in Gatwick was mostly to wreck Norwegian – which was once a serious threat.

    • Alex Sm says:

      Norwegian will come back

      • Matarredondaaa says:

        Norse Airways the airline going to be doing long haul from Gatwick announced this week they and BALPA had made a comprehensive agreement so wonder if that influenced the union?

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