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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)

  • Isobel Brown says:

    Have Gatwick to Alicante with car hire booked for June.
    Currently no BA flights bookable to Alicante from any London airport on our dates.
    Should we wait for BA to contact us or try a new booking to Valencia where there are flights showing?

    • Rob says:

      Wait. Flight will likely move to Heathrow although times may change.

    • Sam G says:

      I wonder if Spain might be retained/scaled up with some more flights on Vueling with BA codes – Vueling have operated Alicante this summer out of their base there for example a few times a week. But hopefully for your sake they operate some LHR mainline flights too, tightest aircraft config I’ve ever flown on!!

    • Richie says:

      The Gatwick flights are just suspended, they aren’t yet cancelled, decide if you are happy to accept the relevant voucher, if that can be provided without calling them.

      • ChrisC says:

        Yes voucher can be got on line but it limits your options.

        But I’ll waiting for the formal airport change to come through and then decide if I’ll take a refund or reschedule to LHR/LCY.

  • John says:

    Will the LGW domestics operate in a W pattern from LHR?

  • Babyg says:

    Bummer for all the LGW staff that will be affected, i always preferred to fly from LGW (i travel from London Bridge), i could get off the train and into the lounge in about 10-15mins, maybe more BA flights will be added to LCY?…

  • Tariq says:

    I guess I called just-in-time! Got through on the Silver line an hour or so ago, took about 15 minutes in the hold queue, to arrange a change unrelated to this.

  • 1ATL says:

    So that’s Vueling UK or LEVEL setting up shop then. IAG own the LGW slots I think, not BA. Unless they want the cash ….

  • Steve Zodiac says:

    @Rob: Please can you elaborate on your comment about Mixed Fleet?

    • Rob says:

      Unions allowed Mixed Fleet as long as the crews never mixed. Fast forward a few years and BA effectively imposed MF contracts on the rest (ok, some concessions, but the essence is true). The pilots aren’t falling for that one.

      • Steve Zodiac says:

        Neither the unions nor BA could have predicted the global pandemic which grounded the airline industry, led to thousands of redundancies worldwide and caused the collapse of a number of businesses.

        The “effective imposition” of Mixed Fleet contracts as you put it needs to be seen in that context. Tough decisions had to be made and there may well be differences of opinions (hindsight is a wonderful thing). It is, however, totally irresponsible to stir up fear of “imposition of contracts” without fully acknowledging the situation in which it happened.

        • Gibbsy says:

          Omg. We get you don’t like unions and balpa especially.
          When you were an associate did they do
          Something bad to

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            Just because people have been upset by BA and used that to form their stance (as evidenced by the replies on this thread) does not mean that the same is true the other way around. Sometimes it’s good to try and look objectively at something.

            it would be good to get some clarity about the main issue: Is it (as some seem to imply) specifically that the proposed contracts did not offer to pay pilots well? Or is it (as another HfP page suggests) the fear that BA might impose the new Gatwick conditions on Heathrow at a later date?

            Whatever BALPA’s aims were, it’s difficult to fathom the current situation which has seemingly resulted in fewer BA jobs and a risk that the slots could be operated by low cost carriers on reduced ts and cs (some of whom use pilot bases elsewhere). Can someone please elaborate on exactly what the current situation has managed to achieve for British pilots?

          • Rob says:

            If your employer was planning to open a new office down the road and pay the people doing your job far less than you were getting – and you had the power to veto it – wouldn’t you? They will be coming for you and your salary soon enough.

          • John C says:

            “Steve Zodiac” “Jonny Price” and “Catalan” seem to have *suspiciously high knowledge* of the BA innards given their collective comments. Namely, 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 they are all the authority on the matters… And a readiness to argue with Rob on his perception of Mixed Fleet/fire&rehire because it didn’t fit their 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…

          • Lady London says:

            JohnC you mean they’re paid by the Russians? Or just by BA?

          • Steve Zodiac says:

            John C, you can urge others all you like to adopt your position of mistrust. I have explained myself as best I can elsewhere, along with my sadness that the direction of engagement here is moving towards baseless attempts to discredit rather than engage constructively.

            I have never claimed to have a knowledge of pilot pay scales and have tried to be transparent with what I have read to inform my position. I have tried to ask questions fairly.

            As a customer who has enjoyed flying BA from Gatwick in the past, I am within my rights to express my disappointment and your dismissal of the customer viewpoint as sandbagging speaks volumes.

        • Sarah says:

          Let’s not forget that BA used the excuse of Covid to finally push through the changes with cabin crew that they’d been trying to make happen for years. Long-standing cabin crew members were completely screwed over and it’s going to be the passengers that suffer as a result with an inexperienced and unmotivated cabin crew workforce. I can see why the pilots don’t trust BA.

          • Lady London says:

            +1 even if global forces eventually mean BA pilots lose existing packages, there is absolutely no point in trusting BA with what they moved to do with cabin crew utterly ruthlessly as soon as they got the opportunity with Covid. Whilst taking furlough money from the government they were using it to prop themselves up while they systematically completed the destruction of packages earned by longserving loyal crew.

            BALPA is completely right to insist that everything agreed with BA has no loopholes for BA to pull the same trick on them. As soon as any employer won’t put something they say in writing, IME klaxons and red lights should go off for any employee or contractor.

        • Fenny says:

          Cripes, you’re boring!

  • Alex B says:

    How does BA CityFlyer sit within Pilot Seniority/BALPA? Could BA not just expand that to Gatwick?

    • Rob says:

      There is a seat number cap on the aircraft that CityFlyer can operate so it couldn’t be done with an Airbus.

  • Memesweeper says:

    BA GatwickFlyer is coming. You heard it here first.

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