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BREAKING: BALPA accepts new British Airways Gatwick proposal by a huge majority

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BALPA, the British Airways pilot union, has just released the result of its ballot into whether the pilot body should support the new BA low cost carrier at London Gatwick.

Despite the proposal being only marginally better than the one originally rejected, pilots have approved it by a huge majority.

(EDIT: this article has been updated since original publication to reflect later developments)

BALPA passes BA Gatwick ballot

The result was:

Question: “Do you accept the revised LGW shorthaul “Newco” draft agreement?”

Yes – 82%

No – 18%

Turnout – 75%

Following publication of the result, British Airways and BALPA formally signed the deal under which pilots would work for the new company. British Airways is now liaising with other stakeholders with the intent to relaunch short haul flights at Gatwick.

British Airways provided the following statement:

We will now further develop our proposal to provide a full-service short-haul subsidiary operation at Gatwick, offering competitive fares to our customers.

We will continue discussions with our colleagues, trade unions, suppliers and other stakeholders, following this positive result, and if we can agree a way forward with all parties, we would hope to begin operations next summer.​”

What will British Airways at Gatwick look like?

Following the original announcement on its intentions to establish a new Gatwick subsidiary, British Airways confirmed that the new airline will look and feel identical to any other British Airways flight:

From a customer experience perspective the new airline will be British Airways branded and customers will continue to benefit from the same full standard of service that they currently receive from us, alongside competitive fares.”

That means that you can expect lounge access and other status benefits to continue, as well as recently re-introduced free water and snacks in economy.

The cost savings are likely to occur behind the scenes, where British Airways might be able to employ cabin crew, ground staff and other airport support staff at a cheaper rate than it can with the main British Airways staff.

Why is British Airways introducing a new airline?

As we have previously reported, British Airways claims that Gatwick was a loss making operation for British Airways even during the peak summer months in 2019. In its original statement to staff, British Airways management said:

As you know, we haven’t been operating short haul flights at Gatwick during the pandemic. This was previously a highly competitive market, but for us to run a sustainable airline in the current environment, we need a competitive operating model. Because of that, we are proposing a new operating subsidiary to run alongside our existing long-haul Gatwick operation, to serve short haul routes to/from Gatwick from summer 2022. This will help us to be both agile and competitive, allowing us to build a sustainable short haul presence at Gatwick over time.

Whilst the long haul flights from Gatwick were profitable, British Airways was losing tens of millions of pounds on its short haul flights.

Despite being unprofitable, BA would not have wanted to pull out of the airport completely – that would have given its competitors such as easyJet a further foothold in the London airport which BA would be loathe to do. The operation of Gatwick flights was likely a strategic move to prevent easyJet dominating and becoming an even greater threat.

Why does British Airways need pilot approval?

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.

The original deal fell through recently when British Airways would not guarantee in writing that Gatwick pilots would see their pay rise in line with their Heathrow colleagues.

What happens next?

Now that the deal has been signed it is highly likely that British Airways will return to Gatwick from April 2022.

BA would start with a smaller presence at first than it had in 2019, with up to 17 A320 family aircraft based at the airport next summer, increasing over 3-4 years. This would allow it to grow sustainably as passengers return to travelling over the coming period but it is substantially less than the 31+ aircraft stationed at Gatwick in 2019, according to travel analytics company Cirium.

Almost all Gatwick flights in 2022 have been transferred to Heathrow in the past weeks. It’s likely that British Airways will move back the flights it wants to retain at Gatwick under the same flight numbers, although some will need to remain at Heathrow given the smaller fleet that will now be based at Gatwick.

A lot of work still remains for British Airways – for a start, it will need to secure a new operating licence for the subsidiary airline. Progress will need to be made quickly if BA wants to restart Gatwick flights in April 2022.


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Comments (30)

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

  • ChrisC says:

    Will await details of what his actually means for things like on board service etc etc and what BAs policy will be re allowing people to move flights back to LGW from LHR/LCY if they shifted them there because of the cancellations – assuming BA moves those flights back of course.

    • Babyg says:

      if you havent “accepted” your LGW-LHR moved flight then i dont see it being an issue, going by past experience it will be difficult if you have accepted your new LHR departure point.. I usually never accept new flights until a few days out, gives the most flexibility..

      • ChrisC says:

        Even though I haven’t accepted most of the changs the new LHR departure flight is what appears in both the cancellation email and MMB

        Lots of people, not knowing the reason behind the cancellations, will have just accepted the changes because they want to firm up other aspects of their trips such as hotels, car parking, transport to LHR etc etc

    • Rhys says:

      BA have said that the new airline will be pretty much indistinguishable to the customer.

  • ChrisW says:

    This is all standard negtoiating tactics. You refuse the first offer, the other side goes public to say the deal is off, then they come back with a better offer and you accept.

    Not really breaking news.

    • WaynedP says:

      Well I’m satisfied it constitutes “breaking news” on the basis that there are clear inside knowledge details divulged that aren’t available elsewhere right now.

  • HarryB. says:

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”. If it was a loss making operation even in peak 2019 then expecting something other than more losses is delusional. No more than 10% of legacy fliers that use London airports want to use LGW. It’s a dump for more than 10 years, mainly point to point so good for LCC but not for BA. Good way to throw in the trash extra opportunities for connecting flights through LHR.
    Consolidating operations is the only way forward and cost-conscious LCC’s seem to get it but BA doesn’t. Oh well, they might as well start charging for cabin luggage instead of taking some sensible steps!

    • Alastair says:

      BA at LGW is far from being a dump. New checkin zone, reasonable fast track security, new First and Club lounges. For a lot of South / East London, it’s also easier to get to than LHR.
      It also serves to take pressure off LHR and the dump that is T5…where J lounges are full to overflowing, people sitting on the floor etc. (even before business travel has resumed in earnest!)

      • Distichon says:

        Not only for South and East London! It’s actually simpler to reach even from many places north of London, because there’s a direct train connection! Unless you have lots of luggage, it’s a lot more convenient/cheap than LHR.

      • Mikeact says:

        I would agree, it’s far from a dump, whatever that is supposed to mean. I’ve used Gatwick since the very early 70’s and obviously it has just about changed out of all recognition. My only comment used to be that one day, they’ll have a sign up, ‘We regret, there is no more building work going on ‘. Always something going on , and more round the houses inside the terminal/s. Apart from that, I quite like Gatwick ….always helps when you know the short cuts etc.

    • Rhys says:

      Heathrow is slot constrained. BA wouldn’t be able to consolidate there even if it wanted to.

    • john says:

      Whilst maybe a financial loss in direct terms, and it could be still going forward, the fact it restricts easyjet growth etc may mean its financially preferable to run a loss-leading airline out of LGW than the LCC taking scoops out of the LHR business.

    • Babyg says:

      The BA club lounge @ Gatwick is far superior to the galleries north/south lounges at T5, besides i can get from train to lounge in about 10mins if things are going well at Gatwick.. meanwhile it takes around 20-30mins from train to lounge at T5 . The only thing T5 has going for it is the First Wing/CCR (and associated flight options), otherwise Gatwick all the way for me.

    • ChrisC says:

      When was the last time you were at LGW?

      Seems that some people have a perception of LGW that isn’t based on reality but just a bias.

      If BA want to truly consolidate options at LHR then they need to pull their fingers out and work with HAL and get T5C extended for a start and move their ops from T3 to T5. That will save them a shed load of cash.

      • HarryB. says:

        Unfortunately my perception on LGW is based on personal experience rather than bias as 60-70% of my flights over the last 20 years have been from/to there. It’s feels like a constant building site, reaching most of its gates is a trip by itself, security check is chronicaly the least efficient across all London airports and taking a taxi to/from it is out of the question unless you can afford +£100.
        The logic that it’s easier to reach from other areas of the SE is very “Ryanair-esque”. As a passenger I want city airports to primarily serve their city well (and located 50km away from the city centre is far from ideal) and then the wider region especially when the city’s population far outstrips the population of the counties that are located closer to LGW than LHR.
        I’m well aware that LHR is slot constrained but there are 2 additional factors to take into account: a) according to predictions passenger traffic will not reach 2019 levels before 2024 and b) that a good number of LHR slots held by other airlines are going to be sold/lend due to the reduced traffic. Therefore BA should be able to serve the vast majority of its prospective passengers from LHR in the next 3 years. Burning more cash at LGW doesn’t seem that sustainable to me and it’s been going on for years; I don’t have the illusion that it can be reversed.
        EJ hugely decreased its presence at LTN (its first and for years largest base!), STN and left Southend, Ryanair did similarly with LTN, LGW and Southend. Splitting operations across 3 airports serving the same city is a huge challenge and that BA failed to make it work. It’s about time that legacy airlines realise that they can’t beat LoCo’s at their game by racing to the bottom and should endeavour to offer a superior product instead. I’m afraid I can’t see LGW North terminal as on equal level of passenger comfort to LHR T5 no matter how I try.

  • TimM says:

    The point of the exercise must be something other than meets the eye. Under the proposed new model what is the actual operating cost difference? Are BA going to make their pilots pay for water and food food during the flight, as Ryan Air does? There must be a longer term goal not thus far mentioned.

    • ChrisW says:

      Agreed. Surely paying their pilots slightly less won’t suddenly make the whole exercise profitable? Nothing else about the business model seems to change. Same destinations, same EasyJet etc. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jet2 come roaring into Gatwick like they have at Stansted at some stage too

      • Bagoly says:

        Is it setting up options for the future?
        Value not known, but hoped for?
        E.g. During some future crisis push all Heathrow pilots onto Gatwick terms?
        Have a separate group of pilots who might be persuaded at some stage in the future to break a strike? etc

    • Rhys says:

      That’s the million dollar question!

    • Andrew says:

      BA’s labour relations is based on a history and strategy of lies, deceit, penny-pinching, abuse and bad-faith. Expect no different here.

  • Lady London says:

    BA 40
    Pilots 0

    Expect a re-run of Mid-Fleet

    • Bob Sprocket says:


      Mid-Fleet isn’t even a thing either.

      • Doug M says:

        Apart from the mid mixed typo how is it rubbish. Pilots again fold and whimper away.

        • Stocious says:

          There’s nothing mixed fleet about it. Those pilots will be on the BA MSL, with all the benefits that that includes, and both current BA pilots will have access to LGW flying if they chose, and LGW pilots will have access to LHR – something that Mixed Fleet definately didn’t. What would you have suggested the pilots do?

          Granted it’s not on the same previous terms and conditions, but this was generally seen as the lesser of two evils, and will add up to 250 pilot positions over the next few years.

          • Cambridge Dad says:

            That’s true enough. Perhaps you could explain why BA pilots threw out pretty much the same offer a few weeks ago? Nothing much has changed in terms of conditions.

            Do you trust your BALPA officials giving you the lead on which way to vote? Strange how one week you all hated it it, then next week you all love it.

  • Richie says:

    So will we see ‘fresh’ avios availability for some of these SH flights at Gatwick for S22?

    • ChrisBCN says:

      I don’t see why not

    • lcylocal says:

      When they came the other way flights that moved over with the same number didn’t trigger new seats. However some flights were cancelled outright, so I would guess if those flights are reinstated they may will trigger new seats.

      The Gatwick summer 2022 schedule previously on sale was pretty much the 2019 schedule, and BAs proposals don’t have enough aircraft based at Gatwick to deliver that in full. So I would not expect every flight cancelled last week to be reinstated.

  • Anna says:

    Grammar point of the day – it’s either “I loathe BA” or “I am loath to admit liking BA”.

  • Aeronaut says:

    Glad to hear a BA operation will remain at Gatwick. Good to keep the competitive pressure up on easyJet and the like.

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