British Airways leasing Qatar aircraft to strike break.

For the last nine months, British Airways has been in dispute with one of it’s cabin crew unions.

For various historical reasons, British Airways has multiple sets of cabin crew “fleets” that serve different destinations.  There are five:

  • Worldwide – these serve long haul from Heathrow
  • Eurofleet – these serve short haul flights from Heathrow
  • Mixed Fleet – these are newer crew hired since 2009 from Heathrow doing both long haul and short haul flying
  • Single fleet Gatwick – all destinations from Gatwick
  • Cityflyer – all destinations from London City Airport

It’s the Mixed Fleet crew that BA are in dispute with.  They are on substantially worse terms and conditions than the older “legacy” fleets (such as Worldwide) and can earn as little as £16,000 per year (although BA say it’s more like £21,000).

They also have a substantially worse roster and scheduling.  For example, a Mixed Fleet crew member working Singapore to London would have two days off afterwards.  A Worldwide crew member working Kuala Lumpur to London would have five days off.

Mixed Fleet are currently at the start of a two weeks strike, from the 1st to the 14th July.  This is the latest in a series of strikes.  Typically the summer is a very busy period for airlines in Northern Hemisphere with flights much busier than normal, giving British Airways a double problem.

In previous strikes they were able to combine flights to various destinations, getting people to where they needed to, plus also lease and charter other aircraft to cover the missing crew.  Now that it’s summer time, these aircraft will already be committed to summer charter flights and BA’s own flights will be fuller, meaning they can’t combine them.

So what British Airways have done is lease nine Qatar Airways A320 aircraft to cover the shortfall.  These will be operated by Qatar Airways flight crew and cabin crew.  The reason that they are able to do this is that Qatar is currently in a dispute with other Gulf countries so a large number of their aircraft are sitting around idle, unable to operate their normal flights.

This leaves me conflicted.

You’ll have noticed on the Ginger Travel Guru, that I recently covered a number of flights that I took with Etihad, here and here.  They were excellent.  I have future flights booked with both Qatar Airways and Emirates.

However that doesn’t mean I’m not uneasy about all of those nations human rights records, particularly when it comes to LGBT people.  Lets be frank, it’s shocking.

But by booking a flight with one the Middle East three (ME3), you’re consciously making that choice.

If I book a flight with an US or European Union carrier, I expect them to have a high standard of workers’ rights, and I know the countries they live in provide basic human rights.  If they’re supportive of the LGBT community even better – I surveyed the major carriers for Pride month.

So if I book British Airways, I expect to get British Airways.

What I find worse about this whole situation though, is that had it been the other way around, Qatar would have simply fired the crew in question – there are no protections for them in that part of the world.

In addition, for LGBT people, sodomy is punishable with up to three years imprisonment in Qatar.

I do understand why British Airways are doing this, but it feels grubby to me.  It feels wrong.  It’s a big corporation using people with little or no rights, to stop people from exercising their basic rights, that people have fought for over many years.

From what I understand too, the union representing Mixed Fleet and British Airways have all but agreed on terms, with the single outstanding aspect being British Airways refusal to restore staff travel benefits to those crew that went on strike previously.  That’s pretty vindictive to me.

Especially since the amount of money that BA will have to spend leasing aircraft for the two week period would most likely outweigh the cost of restoring their benefits.

Either way, I hope the dispute gets settled soon.  It’s not good for Mixed Fleet, it’s not good for British Airways and it’s not good for passengers.

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