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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)

  • Paul Pogba says:

    If there are no flights from Gatwick and HAL are trying to double the charges at Heathrow, does this make RFS unsustainable? Will the short haul fleet shrink forever or will BA move aircraft to Manchester, Edinburgh or Newcastle?

    • Jack Hodgson says:

      No way will the CAA allow Heathrow to do that they are completely loaded and already charge £9 in a recovery fee they could not fly for 2 years and still have money, any excuses they make it is clear they want to get more money. The solution is not constantly increasing already stupid pricing that will do nothing to help the sector far from it. Short haul will always remain a key part of the BA operation

  • Lady London says:

    I would love to be a fly on the wall in BA’s Boardroom right now

    • Paul Pogba says:

      Nils Pratleys summary in the guardian suggests BA were coy when it was suggested they were thinking of purchasing easyJet: https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2021/sep/23/uk-petrol-shortages-visa-rules-drivers-workers

      • Dubious says:

        Are you aware that someone did recently make a takeover bid for EasyJet (which EasyJet rejected)?

        • Paul Pogba says:

          Wizz offered £1.2bn which was rejected. Morrison was going to stay independent at £5.5bn but then it was offered £7bn. Everyone has a price.

          • Rob says:

            The Wizz offer was all share …. you would simply be swapping EZ shares for shares in a combined Wizz / EZ.

      • Lee says:

        IAG would have to square how on the one handle ,that their short of money, and the BA CEO claiming the figures dont add up after furlough ends and then buying Easyjet. It already looks rich for IAG to claim they have financial problems but have the money for Air Europa no matter how low the price has gone. If IAG do buy Easyjet you would have question how much lying BA and IAG boards have done…..of course the spineless remaining BA board who oversaw the fire and rehire of Alex Cruz wouldn’t lie!!!!…

        • Rhys says:

          That’s not how businesses work 🙂 There is a difference between acquiring a company and making sure the existing operation is efficient and profitable. Buying a company is like buying a house. You expect it to make you money in the long term, and so you take out a loan to do it even if you can’t afford to buy one outright.

      • ADS says:

        Nils also says “assuming, that is, the announcement was not a last-ditch negotiating ploy” … which was my immediate thought … you never know with BA.

  • Callum says:

    I think the importance of brand recognition is generally overstated on here.

    I don’t know anyone who goes directly to the airline website to book – they’ll use Skyscanner/Google Flights etc and then choose the cheapest/best time. Granted I’m in the younger demographic, but everyone is moving towards this way.

    How much brand recognition did Norwegian have when they expanded to the UK? Very little I’m sure yet they still filled jets. Having the likes of Vueling take over the slots will surely be less damaging to IAG than giving them all to competitors – even if it takes a long time to build up the brand.

    • Andrew says:

      Oh, I’ll use the search tools, but the days of booking flight seats through third party sites is over for me. Perhaps a flight & hotel deal for a last minute holiday through an OTA, but everything else I’ll book direct with the airline.

    • Paul Pogba says:

      I use momondo to find the best price but I’ll usually book with legacy “flag carriers”; I’m cheap but in my experience the LCCs attract too many functional alcoholics and I can’t be bothered with the agro for the sake of £20-30. Its more an aversion to Ryanair than a love of BA but in a peculiar way brands still matter.

      • Callum says:

        They absolutely do still matter, but much like the crowd of people every single “enhancement” saying “this is the straw that breaks the camels back – BA is gonna collapse now”, you’re in the minority.

        • manilabay says:

          I think I agree with your point. Skyscanner/Google Flights is used almost-exclusively by Millennials/Gen Z. Most of my friends are focussed on low price (I’m an exception) and have zero affinity with BA – they’re as likely to fly them as Ryanair, Jet2 or Wizz if the price is right.

        • Dev says:

          I genuinely tend to find that like for like bookings for Legacy carriers CS Low-cost … same or similar timings, baggage allowance, etc are very similarly priced. Any savings for low cost carriers are almost instantly wiped out once you factor in getting to your airport of departure (Stansted, Luton, etc) and then a similar story (granted, not always) at the other end!

    • Matarredondaaa says:

      Never ever use Skyscanner or anything else. Search airlines you trust. Know so many who buy through dodgy third parties and end up regretting it.
      You can’t beat direct research for accuracy

      • Callum says:

        There’s no requirement to book via third parties if you use a flight search engine. Though I’ve saved literally hundreds of pounds by doing so. If you’re flexible and savvy enough to deal with complications that may arise, you’ll be fine.

        I never use Skyscanner as their results were(/are?) horrifically inaccurate, but I’ve found Google flights incredibly useful.

  • Dansk says:

    my sympathies go to the cabin crew affected by this change

    always found BA flights from Gatwick to have a more cheerful crew (perhaps due to the higher level of passengers excited travelling for leisure) and really liked the lounge there

  • Will says:

    What are the chances of IAG launching a separate entity entirely, using leased BA aircraft and slots with a view to migrating fully to this new airline eventually and shovelling BA and all of its debt into the bin?

  • Kishan Majithia says:

    How likely is it that BA will just switch their most popular flights to LHR? If they do that, will they have more seats to sell or will the planes be the same capacity? I am trying to nab flights to Kos over May half term but the flight had previously been full.

  • Lee says:

    True to form and consistent, BALPA and the BA pilots who have some feeling of entitlement over everyone else at British Airways, the opportunity to keep BA Gatwick short haul is scuppered and now puts further jobs at risk on the ground as well as in the air. But then when did BA pilots worry about anybody else execept themselves!….Happy to break rank with the rest of their colleagues at BA to look after themselves….again!

    • James D says:

      What are you basing your comments on? Are you aware of things such as the scheduling agreement that was proposed? No, I guess not, so perhaps think before you comment

    • Doug M says:

      How does levelling down ever protect jobs and wages. Management always have a sob story when they want to offer inferior terms. When the going was good the shareholders took the profits, when the going gets tough staff should take pay cuts?

      • J says:

        I would trust pilots over BA management any day of the week. BA have a long history of lying, dirty tricks and even breaking the law. Why should pilots engage in a race to the bottom?

    • sunny smith says:

      Lee,

      Having read your comments over the last few weeks, you appear to be a management cheerleader OR an “old school” disgruntled CC member. First of all, even if the pilots did “look after themselves”, how is that different to any other group of employees (in any industry) that have acted in the same manner. Secondly, what do you propose? Is it OK for a billion-pound company such as IAG/BA to continually aim to drive down terms and conditions? Would you not stand up to that, or are you somehow protected from the ravages of inflation? Or maybe you feel that a scheduling agreement that is ripe for fatigue and thus dangerous is fine as it “doesn’t affect you”……. As for breaking rank….. I’ll remind you again, it was the other unions that walked away from “joint negotiations” last time around. Apparently, GMB and Unite felt that their members would be better served by allowing the pilots to take all the risk. Maybe (if you do have access) – reread all the communications that those unions sent to their members……

  • Mike says:

    Entirely BALPA and overly entitled BA pilots at fault here

    • James D says:

      Source?

    • Doug M says:

      You believe you protect jobs and wages by taking terms worse than those you currently work to?

    • ADS says:

      So BA agreed to protect pilot pay
      BALPA tried to make it legally binding
      BA refused
      BALPA lost faith in BA

      but it’s all the pilots’ fault – how does that work ?!

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