x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

BA travellers await court ruling

Union and British Airways continue talks while the airline launches a court challenge to the legality of strike action by its cabin crews.

Many people travelling to Britain with BA could see their plans disrupted by strike action.
Many people travelling to Britain with BA could see their plans disrupted by strike action.

Holiday-makers with plans to travel to the UK for Christmas were awaiting the outcome of negotiations and court action last night to see if a threatened strike by British Airways' cabin crew would go ahead. Union and airline officials began talks yesterday in an attempt to stave off industrial action, which could see as many as 13,500 people go on strike from December 22 to January 2.

At the same time, BA launched a High Court challenge to the legality of the action, which would take place during its busiest period and could cost the flag-carrier in excess of £20 million (Dh120m) a day in lost revenue. Bruce Carr, the airline's lawyer, said in court yesterday that the union had shown "withering contempt" for the interests of passengers over the most important two weeks of the year.

The hearing is continuing and Judge Laura Cox said she would give a ruling today, according to wire reports. The Unite union called the strike on Monday after members voted in support of action over concerns about proposed staff reductions on some flights and a pay freeze. BA operates 26 flights a week between the UAE and London, meaning a strike could disrupt Christmas and New Year travel plans for tens of thousands of expatriates and holiday-makers in the Emirates and around the world.

British nationals in the UAE say they have yet to be contacted by BA or their travel agents to confirm that their plans may be threatened. "After reading about it in the news, we looked on the British Airways website and came across the banner they have there saying that this action had been taken," said a 35-year-old British engineer working in Dubai. "The banner said that they would be contacting their passengers very soon, but they haven't done that at all yet. We are a week away from it all happening and we don't know anything." The engineer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had booked tickets for himself, his wife and his nine-year-old daughter to fly to Manchester, via London's Heathrow Airport, on December 24, with a return to Dubai on January 1.

"Because we had looked at the site of our own accord, my wife and daughter have now been able to change their flights free of charge to depart on Sunday before the strike is scheduled to start, and they will return on January 4, which is just after the strike ends," he said. "I don't have that option because I have work-related responsibilities. I can't just suddenly add extra leave. So effectively, I can't really do anything about my ticket."

The engineer, who works in the aviation industry, said he had no choice but to hope the airline would protect its international flights and scrap domestic flights instead. According to wire reports, the airline said it was still drawing up contingency plans for a stoppage, based on the number of flight attendants prepared to carry on working. Carriers faced with disruption typically focus on long-haul routes and suspend shorter ones.

Omar al Saltoni, 31, also found out by chance that his family's Christmas travel plans may be cancelled. "My wife's friend works for a travel agency and called us to see if we'd heard, because she knew we were planning to spend Christmas and the New Year in London with my wife, Jessica's, parents," said Mr al Saltoni. The couple were scheduled to travel on December 23 and have not yet changed their plans.

"We are waiting to hear about the results of the hearing before deciding what to do," said Mr al Saltoni. Tamara al Sahyouni has tickets from BA to Montreal, via London and New York, for herself, her husband and her seven-month old daughter, Sophia, since August. The family was due to fly out on December 29 and has already paid for its non-refundable, two-week hotel stay. "We made our reservations so early because it is such a long flight, and with a baby, you really need to plan," said Mrs al Sahyouni.

"We really don't know what to do. It's a big mess and we can't accept it; we'll lose so much money." The family cannot change the flight dates because of the hotel booking and work commitments, so it is hoping that BA will rebook them on to another airline at no added cost. "We found out by mistake. My husband called me from work to tell me and I checked online to confirm it," said Mrs al Sahyouni.

"We are waiting to hear about the result of the negotiations between the union and BA. I hope they'll find a solution soon. I've been trying to get a hold of someone in the BA office here but no luck and my husband sent them an e-mail but we haven't heard anything." To Mrs al Sahyouni and her family, the situation is "outrageous." "I don't know how a major airline can justify this at such a high season time. Everyone flies home for Christmas and New Year. People make plans and spend a lot of money. What are they thinking?"

hkhalaf@thenational.ae