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British Airways may return to Gatwick as pilots vote on an improved offer

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The ‘will they, won’t they’ saga over the future of British Airways short-haul flights at Gatwick Airport has taken another twist.

We had assumed that withdrawal from Gatwick was now a done deal. After British Airways backtracked on promises made to pilot union BALPA, which caused BALPA to withdraw its ballot on whether to support the new operation, BA announced internally that the Gatwick short-haul business was to close.

Flights were removed from sale for Summer 2022, and last week passengers began to receive emails confirming that their flights were moving to Heathrow.

British Airways to return to Gatwick Airport?

And yet ….

British Airways has tabled new proposals to BALPA which it considers acceptable.

The improvements, described as ‘material’, cover pay structure and scheduling.

The key concerns were (and I quote from an internal BALPA document):

  • The pay structure was too heavily dependent on variable pay rather than basic pay” and
  • The scheduling agreement had inadequate fatigue and lifestyle protections”

The airline has now addressed both of these concerns with improved proposals.

The climbdown by BALPA is surprising. After British Airways suggested initial improvements to its original proposal, BALPA stated that its membership had lost all trust in British Airways and that there was no point in any new vote.

The day that the cabin crew unions agreed to support the introduction of the lower paid ‘Mixed Fleet’ was the day that they effectively signed away their existing generous pay and conditions. That said, it took a few years and a pandemic for British Airways to force this through.

Progress has been swift, with BALPA launching a ballot on Monday. There is no guarantee that the pilots accept, of course, and it remains to be seen what new sweeteners are offered. The ballot period is described as “very short”, implying that a result may be known this week.

Even if the vote is positive, your flight may still depart from Heathrow. British Airways was planning to base 17 aircraft at London Gatwick in 2022 under the new low cost structure, compared to the 30+ used in 2019. This is not enough to operate all of the flights which were originally put on sale from Gatwick.

What has caused this climbdown by British Airways? Has IAG management put its foot down? Has the loosening of travel restrictions from tomorrow, and the reported decimation of the ‘Red List’ later this week, made BA realise that it might need those Gatwick slots after all? Has BA accepted that the economics of Heathrow mean that it can never compete on ‘bucket and spade’ routes from there?

Was it even a climbdown at all? One of our BA insiders says in the comments below that BALPA went begging to the airline after BA showed it was serious about withdrawal by putting through the flight changes last week. The contract changes are, he says, purely cosmetic and just a way for the union to save face. There is a precedent for this – BALPA pulled a planned strike in 2019 when the airline effectively said to it ‘go on then, strike, but we promise you won’t get what you want’.

More to follow, I’m sure.


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Comments (50)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • JoR says:

    Can BA un-cancel the already moved flights from Gatwick to Heathrow? If so, would that impact one’s ability to move or cancel the original booking?

    • Rob says:

      BA is only looking at basing 17 aircraft at Gatwick next year. This is not enough to operate the schedule as it was planned so some flights will not move back.

  • ChrisC says:

    “The climbdown by BALPA is surprising.”

    “What has caused this climbdown by British Airways?”

    So who has actually climbed down then?

    Looks to me like it was BA by improving the offer – likely on instructions from Luis Gallego in Madrid.

    BALPA gets to look reasonable by putting the new offer to its members which would be brownie points in any future negotiations or court cases.

    If BA reinstate LGW – AMS then I’ll insist they move me back there from LHR / LCY at no cost because like many others I only switched because of BA cancelling the ex LGW flights in the first place.

    • Nick says:

      I’m sure I’ll get yelled at by the BALPA PR team that appears to have taken up residency on HfP for saying this… but it was a union climbdown that BA agreed to window-dress with a few shuffled papers to let them save face. BALPA asked to go back to the table when the cancellations hit the other day and reality set in that BA were serious.

      Oh, and by the way for ChrisC’s benefit… Luis is based in London, not Madrid.

      • Mikeact says:

        Well said Nick..100%.

      • ChrisC says:

        I’m not part of the BALPA PR team but you sound like part of the BA PR team.

        • AJA says:

          As a customer I don’t really care who climbed down. All I want is for BA to fly from both LGW and LHR (and MAN, NCL, GLA, EDI, etc) to places I want to fly to and for them to sell tickets at fair prices. The extra choice is good for customers. This backtracking, whoever blinked first, is welcome.

          • AJA says:

            Plus I want lounge access at outstations and decent service and food on board in CE and CW.

          • Michael Jennings says:

            Gatwick is much easier for me to get to than Heathrow and so is my preferred airport, so I would like there to be a BA presence at Gatwick.

            But if they are not going to, I would like them to get on with giving up the slots, so that some other airline can use them.

          • David S says:

            +1

      • Doug M says:

        To be fair Nick, to have credibility with a post like this you need to say how you know this. Given that’s a very unlikely thing for a real insider to do on comments section like this, your version is just the thoughts of another Internet random like the rest of us.

  • roberto says:

    Great, just finished sorting out my trips to CTA and JER that were originally booked from Malaga connecting out of Gatwick and moved to Heathrow. Was a right PITA switching flights/days, hotels and car hire and if I have to swap it all back I will be mighty peeved…..

    • Sam G says:

      As Rob says – they weren’t planning as many frames at LGW so some had to move anyway (especially if BA need to utilise their LHR slots fully) so I don’t think we’ll see anything move back. Perhaps routes like Malaga will see some additional frequencies added back at LGW at some point

  • ChasP says:

    maybe someone at IAG has Amex Plat business and read the article by Rhys in todays Sunday Times

    makes as much sense as any other explanation

  • Alan says:

    Gatwick was never great for domestic to long haul connections so I’d prefer they just consolidated things really.

    • Julian says:

      Until there is a third runway at Heathrow BA is going to need Gatwick again post pandemic as flights and travel pick up.

      Hence it is inevitable they will resume operation at Gatwick at some point and of course if they pulled out completely for a while (conveniently the upcoming winter when they operate far less bucket and spade flights) this would only strengthen their hand in negotiations with cabin crew and pilot unions about resuming flight operations at Gatwick (which without BA is going to remain well below capacity for some time, although I presume Ryanair and/or Wizz would like to develop bases there with the vacated slots).

      As long as more flights and more jobs in total were involved in the resumption (rather than jobs being cannibalised from Heathrow to Gatwick on lower wages) the Unions would have little alternative but to agree.

      Also the way things look right now an additional runway at Gatwick still looks as though it may happen considerably sooner than at Heathrow (via upgrading the existing taxi way to increase takeoff and landing frequency even though I believe the takeoffs and landings could not be simultaneous) so again it may be BA’s best bet for long term expansion if indeed the future direction of air travel in the UK is one of expansion rather than contraction due to Green and Global Warming concerns.

      • Doug M says:

        My understanding of the 2nd Gatwick runway, it’s more of ‘smart runway’ than a second runway. Is it planned to still only be for take off of short haul aircraft?

        • Julian says:

          No the revised proposal is to move the centre line of the emergency runway by 39 feet so that it can be used at the same as the current main runway for both takeoffs and landings. The consultation period regarding this proposal is ongoing.

          See https://simpleflying.com/gatwick-second-runway-plans

          • Doug M says:

            No? Your link confirms what I said
            “The airport’s Northern Runway is currently used as a taxiway and standby to its Main Runway. Under proposals, the new runway would be used for takeoffs only and accommodate smaller aircraft, with the Main Runway used for all landings.”

  • George K says:

    I hope it happens. I favour Gatwick for many reasons, but more than anything I’d like to have it as an option for inbound flights to avoid the lottery of Heathrow’s immigration queues. Pre-pandemic, if there was an LCY/LGW option for return, I’d take it.

    Best of luck.

  • Lee says:

    Climbdown??….BALPA and the pilots never climb down. They give with one hand and take twice with another…and look after themselves forgetting the rest of their colleagues at BA.

  • Dave T says:

    I believe pilots that are flying now will still be paying part of earnings towards the pilots that are sat at home doing nothing so i think they would vote for a return to Gatwick operations and obviously the pilots that are not working at the moment would also vote for a return to Gatwick flying , also as a regular passenger from the south coast i would love BA to return to Gatwick , Heathrow is a nightmare to get to , plus i prefer the Gatwick lounge

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