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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)

  • Super Secret Stuff says:

    This might explain part of BALPA’s strategy. Things could get really interesting…

    • Mikeact says:

      I assume this won’t attract BA pilots etc., with their lofty salaries and perks…May as well stay at home and continue to be paid by BA.

      • Briand says:

        What exactly would these BALPA idiots have agreed to ? The same, or more or less than BA….how does it work, all one sided or does the employer have a say..

      • Rob says:

        The ones at home are being paid by a deduction from the salaries of the other pilots. BA would have fired them otherwise.

      • Tim says:

        Lofty salaries and perks…….. what is this based on please?

        • Mikeact says:

          Neighbour, BA pilot for over 20 years.

          • Rob says:

            Anyone there for 20 years will be fine. The year before I joined HSBC they still gave staff fully funded pensions after just 20 years service. Those were the days ….

          • Tim says:

            Brilliantly non specific. You’re chatting to a pilot. Feel free to share details of lofty salaries and how they compare to other airlines.

          • Fenny says:

            I work for my local council. Staff who have been there for more than 20 years have better t&c than those (the majority) who have joined since 2014. Yet the media continue to bang on about “gold plated pensions” in relation to local government staff, completely failing to realise that the final salary scheme closed in 2014 and you needed to have significant service before that date for it to make any difference now.
            Anyone who has been working continously for the same organisation for over 20 years is going to be on better terms than most of their colleagues, if only due to having avoided being outsourced. They tend not to be a reliable indicator of others’ views.

  • AW says:

    Dumb question but are we confident the long haul routes will remain unaffected? I have LGW flights with BA to the Caribbean and Mauritius next year which I need to redeem before my vouchers expire…thanks.

    • chris1922 says:

      I’d like to know this too, although I would be quite happy to move my MCO flights to LHR. My outbound is already via LHR, only the return is LGW. With a remaining LGW – GLA shuttle.

    • Anna says:

      They’d get moved to LHR, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of competition on these routes so they’re unlikely to be dropped altogether.

  • Isobel Brown says:

    I have Gatwick – Alicante with car hire booked next June. No BA flights from any London airport now showing. Reluctant to fly Easyjet.
    Should I try to change entire booking to Valencia or hold out until BA get in touch?

  • JDB says:

    The BA statement to Sky News says we will now “suspend…” not close. Is that significant or does the removal of the flights from sale make it final?

    • Rob says:

      There is always a way back but it couldn’t be before October 2022 when the winter timetable kicks in.

      • ChrisC says:

        BA are also taking a huge punt that they existing slot waiver will be extended to the summer 2022 season as that allows them to keep all slots even if it operates only a few flights.

  • Anna says:

    I’m even more glad I don’t need to call BA about anything just now!

  • Nick says:

    Creating a new airline without BALPA would lead to a threat of strike… which would be struck down immediately by the courts. If existing pilot T&C aren’t affected there will be nothing legal to strike about.

    • Rob says:

      BA has a legal deal with BALPA about pilot recognition which would be breached.

      • Sam Sneddon says:

        Do you have any details on the legal agreement? Presumably it doesn’t amount to a closed-shop, but what does it do? Require any subsidiary of BA (or IAG?) to recognise BALPA?

        • Tim says:

          The scope agreement basically says that all BA pilots are represented by BALPA. BALPA and its members have declined a new agreement and therefore BA cannot operate without breaching the scope agreement. BA simply won’t breach it.

          BA could establish a Comair-like subsidiary where everything appears to be BA, but the pilots wear different uniforms, but that’d require losing the BA name (even if the aircraft livery and cabin crew uniform appeared to be BA) which is likely to cause brand issues and confuse customers.

          What’s clear is that there is a significant southern leisure market that trusts BA’s branding, and that a LGW presence was valuable to BA on the whole as it’s been kept despite operating at a loss for a long time. Going to be interesting to see what happens next.

          • Nick says:

            On what grounds is this agreement ‘legal’? Genuinely interested. They had similar with BASSA pre-MF but we saw how that ended. I don’t know anything about BA’s plans but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this were Plan B. I very much doubt any court would deny it.

  • Dev says:

    Why not use the slots to add more premium leisure routes from Gatwick… replicate what we have with carribbean network to places like Mombasa, Zanzibar … and maybe places like Lusaka and Harare?

    • Rob says:

      Might happen. Got the lounges and facilities after all.

    • planeconcorde says:

      because BA are already short of the number of long haul aircraft needed to operate their pre-COVID long haul schedule from Heathrow. So they don’t have spare aircraft to launch additional long haul from Gatwick. Sure, across the world there are plenty of aircraft out of service, but they aren’t the most cost effective to operate.

      • Dev says:

        There not exactly short of aircraft. For example, the daily Nairobi flight has just resumed with 4x weekly. Yeah, it’s a bit of a pain to switch from LHR to LGW but they could easily jig it so that the remaining 3x week flights go to Mombasa or Zanzibar.

  • SSR BAQ says:

    Some of the generic union-phobia in this thread is hilarious. They’re doing exactly what a union should do, protecting wages/jobs and avoiding exploitation; if you are jealous – start a trade union branch in your workplace.

    • Steve Zodiac says:

      Please can you explain how they have protected jobs in this case? It seems as though they have just blocked a proposal to create new jobs for UK-based pilots, with the risk that the slots will now be operated by non-UK based pilots.

      • Mikeact says:

        Exactly, bunch of idiots.

        • Tim says:

          How so? Come Jan 1 2023, only G registered aircraft can operate from UK bases, thanks to the UK leaving EASA. That’ll mean UK pilots flying UK registered aircraft from UK bases. It doesn’t lose UK pilot jobs forever, it protects UK pilots from blatant and aggressive fire and rehire.

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            Tim, unless the slots must be used by Gatwick-based aircraft (which, as far as I know is not stipulated anywhere) then what you say here is wrong – there are no guarantees about UK pilot jobs. There are plenty of ways of providing good frequency from Gatwick using aircraft which are based elsewhere.

          • Rob says:

            Not really true in this case. If Wizz bought one slot pair then, yes, it could fly in from elsewhere and out again. The huge number of slots needed here, plus the flight times, means you would need U.K. crew.

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            @Rob it is absolutely true to say that BALPA have voted down an opportunity which would have ensured that all the slots were operated by UK-based pilots. There is no guarantee that they will *all* go to UK-based pilots, and there is also no guarantee that new pilot jobs will come with the same level of t’s and c’s that BA were offering, let alone better ones. The truth is that BALPA have decided to risk UK based jobs with known t’s and c’s – maybe that risk will pay off in the long term for something better, but it’s difficult to see how their decision makes sense at the moment.

          • Rob says:

            Mixed Fleet shoes it makes perfect sense.

      • Si says:

        •BA shut the Gatwick short haul base.
        •BA therefore said they had too many pilots.
        •BA made 249 pilots redundant.
        •BA announced they will reopen the Gatwick base (on much reduced T&C’s).

        How many “new” jobs have they created?

        249? 🤔

    • Briand says:

      There’s been enough anti BALPA on here from pilots etc as well…they certainly don’t seem to be held in high esteem at all..

    • Mikeact says:

      SSR .I suggest you respond to Jonny Price 14.09 post.

      • Ken says:

        “BA could pay their pilots the same as other UK airlines and would have a low enough cost base to grow”

        What’s wrong with Balpa wanting to be paid more than Ryanair pilots ?
        Or you happy for a race to the bottom everywhere but your own circumstances?

        We (the UK) are close to full employment, there are huge unfilled vacancies even in areas of once high unemployment. Air travel seems pretty likely to have a sharp rebound in the next 12 months.

        Anyone volunteering for worse t&c’s in these circumstances seems to be a massive mug to me.

        BALPA doing exactly what they should be doing – looking after their members interests. Boo hoo if it inconveniences middle class people wanting a cheaper weekend break.

        • Steve Zodiac says:

          In isolation, the question “what’s wrong with wanting to be paid more?” sounds great. Arguably nothing is wrong with being wanting to be paid more, but if it is to become a reality then subsequent questions need to be asked: “Is it feasible?” being a key one.

          The choice faced by BALPA was not “do something and get paid more” vs “do nothing and accept lower pay” – to attempt to paint it like that is either deliberately disingenuous or ignorant.

          Instead, the choice faced by BALPA was “support an offer which creates jobs for British pilots” vs “risk slots going to other airlines (with no guarantee that the ts and cs would be the same, let alone better, and no guarantee that all slots would be flown by UK-based pilots).” They chose the latter, and it remains to be seen if the gamble has paid off.

          I suspect that those customers disappointed that their bookings next year have been cancelled or their opportunity for more choice (and premium travel) has been denied do not currently think that the gamble has paid off. Similarly, I suspect that those pilots hoping that the new deal would given them an opportunity to fly for BA may also take a dim view of things at the moment. You might continue to pass it off with a churlish and unsympathetic “boo hoo” but I’m not convinced that’s a good look.

          • Tim says:

            More brill logic @Steve.

            The viability of a wage comes down to the workforce’s ability to defend it. Ultimately if an airline isn’t able to offer ridiculously cheap flights without shafting the (minimum) 6 people crewing it, it shouldn’t be operating it. If paying reasonable wages to people in safety critical roles means you have to pay £10 more to get to Greece, you should probably be okay with it. Same logic as buying clothes from an obvious sweatshop employer. I get that it’s tempting, but it’s lazy and unreasonable (at best).

            Ps. Reducing pilot salaries with furlough was described by BA in late 2020 as ‘unlikely to affect the balance sheet’. BA’s profitability resting on pilots salaries being bottomed out is bonkers.

            Pps. Unsure if you’re aware that BACC didn’t unilaterally tell BA to shove it. The pilots who voted on the deal (until BALPA pulled it 24hrs before it closed to give BA a chance to renegotiate) gave a resounding ‘no’.

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            What exactly are you saying about safety in this case, Tim? A reasonable future scenario is that some of the slots in and out of Gatwick will be operated by non-UK based crews on lower wages. Will those who choose to take such flights be risking their own safety?

            I will also refer you to this website: You might wish that pilots were paid more, but it is frankly offensive to even think about comparing those who fly for low cost airlines in the UK and EU (where they will have freely chosen to apply for the job and are subject to strict regulations about working hours and conditions) to those who are enslaved in sweat shops. I realise that some are emotionally invested in this topic, but hyperbole generally don’t help anyone.

            Finally, I assume that the quote from BA about their balance sheet refers to their whole business. As has been pointed out several times, the issue here is about a subset of their operations, and it is not unreasonable to think that the relative significance of salaries is different.

            It has also been pointed out that the proposals had the agreement of the bodies representing all the other critical staff. On this basis, the fact that everything hinged on the pilots is not especially ‘bonkers’.

    • John says:

      Maybe BALPA should start an airline if they think it can be profitable

      • Ken says:

        Wasn’t IAG profitable before the pandemic?
        In fact one of the most profitable in the world.

        Virgin they weren’t.

        • Steve Zodiac says:

          Ken you are not the only one on this forum who seem to have failed to grasp that there is a difference between a company being profitable as a whole, and the profitability of a particular operation. In this case, the issue is whether short-haul at London Gatwick is profitable, not whether BA or IAG as a whole turn a profit.

          • John C says:

            It is well known that most Supermarkets are loss-making on their home deliveries given the marginal nature of the operation. Yet, supermarkets continue to offer them and have increased the scale in recent years (not just through the pandemic).

            If you look at the individual profit or loss on the delivery itself, then it will be marginal in nature. But if you consider the network effect, brand and loyalty schemes driving the intangible value of the business and the overall Group P&L, then the value of providing that operation becomes clearer.

            I wonder how much intangible/network value (by network I don’t necessarily just mean connections) BA are risking in this pursuit and how much Group P&L cannot be measured simply on a seat/route basis.

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