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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)

  • jj says:

    Purely selfishly, I imagine that a decent proportion of reward flights were redeemed on Gatwick flights. Does that mean that reward flights will become more difficult to find from Heathrow, my preferred starting point? And will the short haul network shrink substantially when the Heathrow slots revert to long haul?

    • Sam G says:

      I imagine we will see a continuation of the strategy they’d already started pre-covid – far more agility in the short haul schedules and during peak holiday periods LHR + LCY will heavily pivot away from Euro cities when biz demand drops off to the higher yielding holiday routes – Greece etc.

    • John says:

      I’d expect that some people would continue to prefer Gatwick and so move to EZY et al., others will continue to prefer BA. So it would depend on the total number of seats available from Heathrow, and how that compares to the number of seats that used to be available from both airports (and City).

  • Sally B says:

    The contact centres are already very busy with long haul cancellations to Florida, the US and beyond and the BA Holiday department are blown out of the water. So expect long waits – that is if you can get through at all.

  • Catalan says:

    Way to go BALPA. Hope you’re happy with the result!

    • Andy says:

      Surely this is on BA not Balpa?

      • Catalan says:

        I disagree. Cuts had to be made in all departments for the new entity to be realized. Many departments have been outsourced and cabin crew pay and agreements are less lucrative than they once were. Everyone has had to make sacrifices.
        BALPA insisting on LGW pilots having the same pay increases as tHeir LHR colleagues has literally called an end to potential employment for other stakeholders. A selfish move!

        • Fred says:

          It hasn’t called an end to employment for other stakeholders. It means the other stakeholders will fly for another airline, probably Easy, who will be paying their pilots more with better terms and conditions.

          Its the opposite of selfish. It would benefit the rest of the BA pilots to have more pilots coming in below them in seniority, but they rejected the move so the slots could used by an airline that will give some pilots, who are currently out of a job, better working conditions.

          If you don’t know what your’e talking about you shouldn’t post abusive chat.

          • Mikeact says:

            “probably Easy, who will be paying their pilots more with better terms and conditions.”

            How are us passengers supposed to understand this comment without backing it up with some justification….total nonsense.

          • James D says:

            ““probably Easy, who will be paying their pilots more with better terms and conditions.”

            How are us passengers supposed to understand this comment without backing it up with some justification….total nonsense.”

            A quick google will show you that Easy are paid better already than LGW BA pilots, maybe do the research before you state someones talking nonsense?

          • Jonny Price says:

            Better T&Cs at easyJet? I doubt it. Maybe a base salary might be marginally better, but you can bet the other T&Cs would be better at BA (travel perks, pension, opportunity to transfer to LHR).

  • His Holyness says:

    Damn, when will this happen? Time to get some flex fares!

  • Jonny Price says:

    Assuming this is the end of BA shorthaul at Gatwick and a low-cost player takes their place (whether Vueling, easyJet or Wizz Air), this is bad news on multiple levels.

    It is bad news for customers as it reduces consumer choice, removing the BA option on many leisure routes from London (no more business class or frequent flyer benefits such as lounge access).

    It is bad news for BA as it reduces their overall market share from London and the UK – making them a less competitive business.

    It is bad news for British pilots as, having been offered a BA contract with BA benefits such as travel perks, a BA pension and the option of transferring to Heathrow as their career progresses, any jobs in their place will be at other airlines with no such benefits. In addition, some of the Gatwick slots are likely to be covered by aircraft and crew based elsewhere in Europe, so the total number of British pilot jobs will reduce.

    It is difficult to understand BALPA’s stance.

    But then, should we be surprised? History shows us over and over again that the unreasonable demands of the TUs have held back the growth of BA.

    Why did BA set up a subsidiary at London City, but with restrictions on the number of seats they can put in the regional aircraft and with restrictions on the routes they can fly? Because of the unions.

    Why is the new IAG long haul outfit in Manchester operated by Aer Lingus UK and not operated by BA? Because of the unions.

    And now, why is BA pulling out of shorthaul at Gatwick? Because of the unions.

    If it wasn’t for union intransigence, BA could pay their pilots the same as other UK airlines and would have a low enough cost base to grow. A sizeable presence at Gatwick and in the UK regions would mean BA would be a bigger and more successful airline, providing increased consumer choice and more jobs.

    To those on here who complain at BA because they don’t have the cash to invest in their product, or refer to them as “London Airways” because they don’t have many routes from the UK regions – you need to point the finger squarely at the outdated union agreements and the over-inflated salaries.

    Get with the times, BALPA. Your arrogance and greed is killing British aviation.

    • John C says:

      Only BA could have one believe that the viability of an entire operation is solely reliant on a single work department…

      • 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.

        • John C says:

          You mention that in taking this decision, BA have inflicted damage to choice for the consumer and inflicted damage to the business by making themselves less competitive.

          If the operation was largely sorted as you indicate from the arrangements with other departments, why does difficulty with the final piece of the puzzle warrant throwing the whole jigsaw on the floor?

          Similarly, why were BA architects to their own difficulty by reneging on part of the deal, leading Balpa to pull the vote as reported on Hfpoints last week?

          Why would BA make themselves less competitive as you say, now of all times, when the final piece was probably resolvable… instead they’ve created more upheaval and potentially slowed a recovery just as changes to PCR/Traffic Lights and USA all say GO!

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            John C. I personally wouldn’t buy a jigsaw if it had a piece missing, but actually that’s not quite the right analogy here. I’m sure the pilots on here would love being referred to as just a small piece in a jigsaw.

          • John C says:

            Hi Steve Z. I’m sorry you didn’t like the analogy but I am glad you wouldn’t buy a jigsaw with a piece missing… That’s very omniscient of you to be able to see through the packaging in the shop and just know it isn’t there…

            Jonny P was implying that largely every other department was sorted out and that the pilots were the last component/cog/aspect… choose whichever analogy you will. I’m just asking why would BA waste all the effort of having everything else in the operation addressed, over something salvageable in one final area?

            Especially when it appears to have been at least in part provoked by BA reneging on some aspects according to the report?

            By the way, at no point did I use the word ‘small’ regarding the pilots, though your use of it perhaps sheds some extra context on your views here. ‘Small’ was your word and the rest of your post clearly demonstrates your firm grasp of ‘minutiae’ too.

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            @John C – My use of the word “small” is entirely consistent with your narrative, which describes a final piece of the jigsaw and wondered why BA would “waste all the effort of having everything else in the operation addressed.” You make it sound as though, relative to everything else, it is a small step.

            I am not sure why your sarcastic comment about buying a jigsaw was necessary, and it perhaps reinforces why the analogy wasn’t quite right in the first place.

          • John C says:

            Hi “Steve Zodiac”,

            You, “Jonny Price” and “Catalan” seem to have a *suspiciously high knowledge* of the BA innards given your collective comments. Namely, you suggest an inner knowledge of the Aer Lingus MAN cost base, a ready knowledge of pilot pay scales (yet instead urge other readers to pursue these themselves) and the “need” for cuts as if you are all the authority on the matters. You even argue with Rob on his perception of Mixed Fleet/fire&rehire because it doesn’t fit your take, frankly I think Rob is more than qualified to form his own conclusions.

            I’d urge the other readers to observe the comments and narrative from Steve Zodiac, Jonny Prince and Catalan and ask if these are truly narratives from external observers… or whether there is a deliberate agenda to sandbag customer perception… Thou doth protest too much.

          • Jonny Price says:

            I’m going what is widely reported in the press re cost issues.

            You mention BA “reneging on part of the deal”, but that isn’t what the papers are saying this morning. The quotes from BA suggest the deal remained the same, but BALPA pulled the ballot on the day it was meant to close. Why pull a ballot if the deal remained the same? Negotiation tactics?

          • Rob says:

            It’s in our original article. To speed things up, BALPA arranged the ballot based on what BA verbally told them would be in the new employement contract. When the new contract appeared, it was NOT based on what BA had promised. The ballot was therefore pulled.

            Why you think the national press would have had access to the internal BALPA documents we have, I don’t know!

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            Hi John C,

            Sorry to disappoint you and the other readers on here, but I don’t work for BA. I used to work in the aviation industry (not for an airline) and I have retained a general interest. I don’t have an inner knowledge of the Aer Lingus cost base, but I did wonder why they started long haul from MAN when BA hadn’t (given the common comment which has even been made here that BA is “London Airways” I can’t be the only one) and it doesn’t take much to find “cost base” being mentioned in the public domain (e.g. https://www.forbes.com/sites/willhorton1/2020/08/31/british-airways-new-low-cost-strategy-isaer-lingus/). Now, I am well aware that “cost base” covers a number of different aspects, and the more fuel efficient aircraft are doubtless a big factor – but unless someone on here can tell me otherwise, I assume that IAG could have had them delivered in BA branding instead if they had chosen to.

            Anyway, I digress. I hope that those who have followed your advice to scrutinise my comments will note that I have tried to engage reasonably, politely and objectively. They may sadly also note that some of my reasonable questions have been met with “I know better than you!” type responses which belong in the school playground unless they can be substantiated. If people on here are wanting to quash the reputation that BALPA has in some quarters for being “intransigent”, “looking after their own” and “not engaging reasonably” then they might be advised to remember that charity begins at home.

          • John C says:

            Steve Zodiac, (or are you also Jonny P and Catalan?)

            You lament the response your reasonable questions receive, yet may I remind you I asked reasonable, open questions to Jonny P that you felt the need to intercept with the retort:
            “John C. I personally wouldn’t buy a jigsaw if it had a piece missing,”
            …Very constructive of you. You chose initially to ignore the open questions I actually asked Jonny P, just attack the construction instead.

            So whilst you may profess to be the beacon of engaging reasonably, politely and objectively, your initial response actually demonstrates otherwise to readers…

            Your collective and obvious vehemence against the unions, together with overruling of Rob’s perception regarding MF/contracts comes with it a sense of “I know better than you” as you yourself complained about from others. The sandbagging of our customer perception appears to extend well beyond a retained general interest in the aviation industry I’m afraid…

      • Steve Zodiac says:

        John C, I can assure you that I’ve only ever posted under the name of Steve Zodiac and that my statement about not working in aviation is true. However I recognise that you have adopted a position of mistrust and I realise that there is probably nothing I can say here which you would allow to change that.

        Like many here I read HfP and other sites to fuel a genuine interest and it is regrettable that assumptions have got in the way of constructive dialogue. I haven’t read all of the comments on this story (Jonny P’s and otherwise) and I haven’t taken it upon myself to engage with all the questions posed.

        Your comment about the jigsaw remark is particularly frustrating because I was actually trying to convey that I recognised that the situation is not trivial, and that the role of the pilots should not be belittled. If I misjudged that, I am sorry.

        I am still genuinely struggling to understand what the main issue is or was, and whether there have actually been any winners in the short term, but I have also been reminded of why I gave up commenting on rail forums – the text based format leads to misunderstandings and the tendency to respond to challenge with baseless personal smear is almost as bad here as it was there.

        Clearly, I too have come with preconceptions (although my dim view of trade unions comes as much from experience in the rail sector as it does anywhere else), but I am still saddened by my experience here.

        • Steve Zodiac says:

          Also what do you mean by “sandbagging of customer experience?” I am a customer! I am on the train line to Gatwick and have enjoyed several short haul Club Europe over the years. Will I still get choice from Heathrow? Probably. Is it as convenient for me? No. Am I not allowed to express my disappointment? Perhaps I should add “does not care about their customers” to the list of negative union stereotypes seemingly reinforced on here.

    • Graham Walsh says:

      Well said. I was struggling to understand why they have bow down to BALPA all the time. If I did this in my work I’d probably get fired.

    • ken says:

      I presume you are happy to have your salary reduced ?

      After all, it will help your company grow and create more jobs.

      Or does it not work like that.

      • Steve Zodiac says:

        Firstly, there is nothing to suggest a salary reduction for existing staff – your comment seems to misunderstand the situation, deliberately or otherwise.. Secondly, there is nothing to suggest that the salary offered for Gatwick pilots would have been untenable: The subsidiary at Gatwick would have created new jobs and the salary would have had to have been enough to have attracted new employees. Thirdly, it is clear that BALPA do not have a problem in principle with low cost operations (see e.g. https://simpleflying.com/balpa-norse-atlantic-uk-jobs/), so it is difficult to see what their rationale really was beyond politics and power games.

        Having said all of that, plenty of people in recent months have taken a pay cut (either an actual pay cut, or an effective one where wages have not increased in line with living costs) and many of those who have done so understand that it’s preferable to being at risk of redundancy. In better times we might benefit from a demand for jobs and an opportunity to go elsewhere for better pay (as is happening in the haulage industry at the moment) – of course, if the Gatwick slots do go to an operation which relies on non-UK based pilots, BALPA have just acted to reduce the competition for their members in future. *Slow hand clap*

      • Graham Walsh says:

        What about the pilots who are out of work or limited work at other airlines? Why couldn’t they fly on behalf of BA rather than doing DIY on the side to make up for loss of salary?

    • Chet Baker says:

      BA already had a cheap flight crew base at LGW. Junior commands and cadet FO’s meant that combined annual flight crew costs were actually less than EasyJet’s flight crew.

      A smash and grab raid on terms and conditions, preying on the vulnerable ones who BA absolutely insisted on making redundant, is Fire & Rehire over the course of 12 months. Shameful behaviour. BA tried to force this through before market conditions took a turn for the better and had their bluff called.

      If BA really was making a loss at LGW for the last decade (as BA Management would have everyone believe), perhaps they’re better off calling it a day!

      • Jonny Price says:

        BA didn’t have a “cheap” flight crew base. Their cabin crew base was market rate, but not the pilots. That is why they always made a loss.

        So you’re not bothered on BA being a smaller airline with fewer jobs then? You’d rather the jobs go elsewhere with even worse T&Cs, or even outside the UK?

        • Anonymous says:

          Don’t know where you get your “information” from, but BA LGW pilots were always paid less than their equivalents at EasyJet/TUI. In addition, the salary at LGW was already capped to be less than the equivalent within BA at LHR.

        • Chet Baker says:

          They did have cheap flight crew – I was one of them. Pilot wages were not the reason that the base made a loss, if of course we are to believe it made a loss. We’ve had numerous communications over the years from LGW manage saying it actually made a profit, but I guess it’s easier to push for an early vote than allow due diligence to take place. This jobs wouldn’t be new jobs. BA have the flight crew already in place, they’re just sitting at LHR now operating the same flight numbers out of a different base. This was a T&C smash and grab, nothing more.

    • James D says:

      “BA could pay their pilots the same as other UK airlines”

      You realise this would be a pay rise for BA based LGW pilots if this happened, not a pay cut?

      Please get your facts right before commenting.

  • John T says:

    Good luck getting through to BA to change your LGW flights – everyone’s calling in to redeem their FTVs for US travel!

  • Tim says:

    I’ve only just booked 12 seats from LGW to SZG next July,

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