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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)

  • Dave says:

    Anyone know when the cancellations will start to be processed?

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      My guess is after they decide which flights (if any) are going to move to LHR. I have an LGW-MLA booking for next may which is no longer for sale but not cancelled yet, this year that flight has been operating from LHR so there’s a chance it will move to LHR but also there’s the possibility that they don’t have room for it if they expect to be moving closer to a full schedule

  • Peter says:

    Fingers crossed for Wizzair!

  • Steve R says:

    We have 3 RFS for next August. LGW was never convenient, but £105 for three flights during the summer holidays made the 4 hour drive worth it.

    Can we move to another Airline? Manchester much closer

    • Anna says:

      You can cancel the RFS for £35 pp (by phone or Twitter) or take a FTV. If BA cancels you are entitled to re-routing, however you would probably struggle to move the departure to MAN if they are offering LHR as an alternative. It might be quicker and more economical to get connecting flights from MAN to LHR (if there is award availability left, cash prices tend to be very high) rather than driving but it depends on your circumstances.

      • Steve R says:

        Was thinking more of Jet2 or Easyjet & going nowhere near LHR

        • AJA says:

          No chance of BA agreeing to move to jet2 or EasyJet. And if they did it would be departing from LGW. No way they’ll move to another airline departing from a different airport.

          If the other airlines are cheaper from MAN you can take a full refund and rebook independently. Bearing in mind cost of travelling it might be the best option.

  • Richie says:

    Is an ‘official’ press release frim BA or a statement from Sean Doyle expected?

  • Rob says:

    What is maths on this do you reckon?

    How many short hauls does a pilot do per month? Average 2 hours per sector so, max 40 sectors? It is possibly more than this but we’ll be conservative.

    Let’s assume we are – at most – talking about £10,000 per year in salary differential.

    This means we are talking about (£10,000 / 12 / 40) £20 extra cost per flight x 2 for the First Officer, so £40 per sector. No-one can seriously say that £40 per sector is ‘make or break’ for the economics of these routes.

  • AJA says:

    This is a shame as I got some bargains from LGW and liked the lounge complex but as I live closer to LHR I can live without BA short-haul from LGW. Obviously BA still have LGW longhaul so will still get to use the airport.

  • DR says:

    I have LGW/ACE rewards flts booked, presuming that these flts will not be moved
    to LHR, does there have to be rewards flts available for re-routing, it would be
    LHR/MAD/ACE. Thanks

    • JohnT says:

      Lots of previous comments about what they SHOULD offer including provided any cash seats available not just new booking avios ones but depends on agent you get first.

  • Alan says:

    Flying April GLA>LGW to then get a connecting flight with BA to MCO an hour and half after we land.

    Do we know if this would fall under “domestic services connecting to our long-haul operation”? Probably too early to ask.

    • Richie says:

      Is your GLA-LGW flight still available to book on ba.com?

      • Alan says:

        Yes it is, so probably safe to say (well until BA change their mind again) that we’re safe still.

    • ChrisC says:

      Not sure what your question is.

      A flight is a flight is a flight. If you only wanted to fly GLA-LGW they wouldn’t refuse your money.

      • Alan says:

        Question was we have a current booking GLA/LGW/MCO. Was worried it may be cancelled as we can’t get our connecting flight. But as Richie has pointed out I checked and the GLA-LGW leg is still bookable online so looks like it’s not cancelled.

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