British Airways Flight Attendants To Go On Strike Over “Poverty Pay”

British Airways has a few different flight attendant contracts. One of those contracts is for their “mixed fleet” crews, which are their relatively newly hired flight attendants.

As you may remember a few years back, British Airways flight attendants went on strike because they couldn’t agree with management on contract terms, and British Airways threatened that if they didn’t have more reasonable terms then they’d stop hiring flight attendants under their contracts.

The flight attendants didn’t give in, so what British Airways did is start hiring “mixed fleet” flight attendants, which operate select shorthaul and longhaul flights. They’re paid significantly less, typically stay at worse hotels, and have shorter turnarounds (typically only one night).

British-Airways-777-Club-World - 1

Really we’re going from one extreme to another here — the previous flight attendants that went on strike were in many cases very well paid, while mixed fleet flight attendants are basically paid poverty wages. They make a base salary of 12,000GBP, plus 3GBP per hour of flying pay. Figure they fly about a thousand hours a year, so they’re making about 15,000GBP per year, which is horrible… especially given that they’re based in London.

Well, mixed fleet crews have for the first time ever voted to go on strike, and strikes could start as soon as December 21. 79% of flight attendants who participated voted in favor of a strike, and the turnout was 60%. Per the union’s press release:

Thousands of cabin crew working for British Airways ‘Mixed Fleet’ have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over poverty pay and broken promises.

79 per cent of the crew that took part in the ballot voted for strike action. Unite is urging British Airways to return to the negotiating table and engage with the union in a meaningful way otherwise over 2,500 Unite members who crew long and short-haul routes to dozens of destinations could go on strike after the 21st December (see notes to editors).

Since 2010 all British Airways new cabin crew employees have joined the ‘Mixed Fleet’. Earnings were advertised between £21,000 and £25,000 but in reality start at just over £12,000 plus £3 an hour flying pay.

The crew have rejected a two per cent pay offer and on-board customer service managers are furious  they do not have collective bargaining rights. The managers have also endured a six year pay freeze. Meanwhile, Willie Walsh pocketed €8.8 million. British Airways and the parent company IAG reported profits of €1.4 billion, up 64 per cent on last year.

A survey of mixed fleet cabin crew reveals some pretty alarming statistics:

A recent Unite survey found that half its Mixed Fleet members had taken on second jobs on their days off to make ends meet, over two thirds were going to work unfit to fly because they could not afford to be off sick, and a massive 84 per cent said they had experienced stress and depression since joining BA due to their financial circumstances. Some admitted sleeping in cars between flights because they could not afford the petrol to get home.

Not only are the pay rates indefensible but in aviation, low pay is a safety issue. 30 per cent of the Mixed Fleet crew have been with the company for just under a year. Crew simply can’t afford to stay. Inexperience, fatigue, and the fact that BA recently cut the length of crew training courses means Unite is genuinely concerned about the potential repercussions.

While I generally think the truth lies somewhere in the middle when it comes to airline management and union negotiations, in this instance I think that the mixed fleet crews are objectively underpaid. Admittedly they agreed to these terms when they started their jobs, but over time it is indeed indefensible how little they’re paid.

You’d think it would be in management’s best interest to pay them better, to prevent such high turnover and low service standards.

I’ll be curious to see what happens for here. We could potentially see some major strikes within a week, or perhaps management will come to their senses and make a more reasonable offer.

US-Airways-Business-Class-A330-30

If you have any British Airways travel plans coming up over the holidays, I’d at least try to have a backup if possible. The good news is that mixed fleet flight attendants represent less than 20% of all British Airways flight attendants, so the impact shouldn’t be that huge.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

More articles by lucky »

Comments

  1. Argh! Im flying to Hawaii next week (December 21st!!!) from Dublin via LHR and LAX. I seriously hope this doesn’t kick off then! What’s worse is that the day I fly back (January 7th) I have to go straight from the airport to a friends wedding!!! I cannot afford to be delayed! You think it’ll be sorted out by then? Who knows I suppose!

  2. Lucky, I’ve never had an airline strike potentially affect my travel plans. I’m flying TPA-LGW 12/26. Lets say the strike continues past 12/26, what sort of issues should I be on the look out for? Cancellations…can flights occur without flight attendants? If so, would I be on the hook for my own travel or would BA be required to re-route me on another airline? Delays (instead of cancellations)?

    I would really like to get out ahead of this (or at least brainstorm what I may need to do) because it’s an important trip for my wife and we’ll be pretty disappointed to see this fall through. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  3. Give me a break! This is what it takes to make it big. You have to start somewhere. Many bankers earning millions today worked for free as interns. The flight attendants can get promoted and even become pilots some day and make 7 figures!

  4. @Jackie

    Yep, that’s how it works. Put in enough hours in the galley and they promote you up to the flight deck with a $1MM+ salary.

    (what on earth)

  5. I’m curious about how BA was able to start hiring people under a new contract. It seems like if companies are able to keep doing this unions would be left with no bargaining power.

  6. BA has created a work environment that basically pits the Legacy FAs against the Mixed Fleet FAs. As long as they have separate contracts then the airline can hold out without much impact from a strike. And, the legacy FAs will never get anything more, and quite possibly a lot less come time for a new contract. The smart move would be for the Legacy crews to stand in solidarity with the Mixed Fleet but it probably won’t happen.

  7. This is definitely very unfortunate, but I do love the mixed fleet crews. On my last British Airways flight LHR-DFW the in flight service manager looked to be at most 30 years old, and every single one of the flight attendants was genuinely attractive. So I like this, can we continue to hire young people and especially attractive young people.

  8. £15,000 ($19,000) isn’t good money, but I’m not sure I’d call it horrible. The median household income in the UK is only about £24,000 a year (that’s for 2 adults). Remember, despite the glamourous reputation, cabin crew are actually fairly low-skilled workers. If you compare them to their peers in other elementary occupations (cleaners, restaurant staff, etc.) cabin crew do better than most.

    Interestingly, pilots actually have the highest median earnings of any occupation in the UK, more than doctors, lawyers, or even chief executives. There’s a huge disparity in the airline industry between high-skilled and low-skilled workers.

  9. “Lucky, I’ve never had an airline strike potentially affect my travel plans. I’m flying TPA-LGW 12/26. ”
    @Ben, all the mixed fleet cabin crews are based at Heathrow. Flights to/from Gatwick should not be (or would be minimally) affected.

  10. This has been a long time coming, and the Worldwide (legacy) flight attendants saw their Mixed Fleet colleagues leave the company much faster than management expected. Management will eventually give in – they have started to understand that you don’t get what you don’t pay for.

  11. Petulant union scum doing what union scum does. Every one of them knew the salary when they hired on. Their choice. Fire and replace them all if they strike – they have no right to impose their petulance on the paying travelers.

  12. @Lucky: you said: “they’re making about 15,000GBP per year, which is horrible… especially given that they’re based in London”. As a (foreigner) physician-scientist working in a top London hospital in 1991 I was “making” 5,000GBP per year………… what word would use to describe THAT then? Oh, and I did NOT ever strike.

  13. 5,000 GBP in 1991, adjusted for UK inflation, is 10,250 GBP today (http://inflation.stephenmorley.org/). Of course, Daniel B does not say what he was doing in 1991 at the hospital or his hours. If he was a part time lab tech, 5,000 is pretty good. If he was a neurosurgeon, not so much.

  14. Key number I think?

    Let’s hope the government follows through and makes striking illegal. It’s not acceptable to bring everyone else’s days and weeks even to a standstill because you can’t stand thought of hard work and persistence. Days off to make your ride a bit easier? Shame on those striking. There are other people out there who I’m sure would happily fill your role and to be honest I’d be happier to have them.

  15. @Matthew and @Matt the Coffeman. Again, I was a (foreigner) physician-scientist working in the lab 5 days a week from 9.00am-5.30pm, seeing patients once a week in a busy clinic, coming in Saturdays and Sundays to do keep the cell cultures alive. I was told by my employer that I should be happy because I did not have to pay income tax (what they did not tell me was that it was because my earning put me under he “poverty level”). But I did NOT strike, I did NOT complain, I worked hard, and now I am in the US, paying taxes finally, and as happy as I have ever been.

  16. Is there a way to tell if your upcoming flight on BA is operated by a mixed fleet crew? Do they announce those routes?

  17. I agree they are underpaid but at the same time, they agreed to that pay when signing their job contract. We all have to start some place. If they are unhappy, why not get another job at a competing British airline like Virgin Atlantic or for an airline that’s growing like EK/QR/EY? It’s probably easier said than done but at least that’s what I would do if I’m unhappy with my current income.

  18. ummm 15,000 GBP for London is really terrible pay.

    If you are aged 25 for example earning that money and living in london, even a room share cost’s around 500 GBP per month for a box, then add bills etc and food.

    And you are left with say 300 GBP per month for your life….Not much fun

    If IHG make so much money, they can offer them more pay.

  19. @Joe, you can check this thread for the usual routes MF flights on BA:
    http://www.cabincrew.com/forums/mixed-fleet-destinations/206393/13

    Note though that the routes tend to change. However, I think mixed fleet has never flown the JFK route though they did to EWR for a while. As for A380, I think MF flies the JNB route and sometimes MIA. It varies but read the thread in the link I provided. From that thread, it seems to me there are still a lot of people applying to be part of Mixed Fleet BA crew.

  20. I’m flying twice with BA from LHR shortly. Once on 24th Dec to spend Christmas with my family. Then again on 30th Dec for a positioning flight to Amsterdam to start a long awaited holiday to Thailand. I’ll be upset if either of those are disrupted but I fully support the cabin crew strike. £15k in London is a joke, especially when you play an important role in aviation safety. What’s more, IAG are predicting operating profits of €2.5bn, probably helped along by decisions like buy-on-board – they can’t afford to pay their crew a decent wage? If my plans are ruined I’ll be placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of BA and IAG’s top Directors, not the impoverished crew.

  21. According to the Poverty and Social Exclusion group of England. Poverty pay is 206 pounds per week. Assuming they only make the base salary of 12,000 per year (so not even include their bonus of when they actually fly and assuming they are not making above the base salary), divide that by 52 weeks in the year, they make 230 pounds per week. So they do not make poverty pay …..

    If you don’t like how much you are making, make yourself more valuable and learn a different skill/skills to earn more money. Even if that means switching your field. Or you know, when they offer you the contract to work for them and you’re not happy with the amount, negotiate or find another job….

  22. @J

    “Or you know, when they offer you the contract to work for them and you’re not happy with the amount, negotiate or find another job….”

    A strike threat is a negotiation tactic, my sweet simple friend 🙂

  23. Some facts from the UK Office of National Statistics to counter the wild assertions out there

    For full time employees in London, including incentive payments:
    Average: £48,081
    Median: £35,953
    10th Percentile: £17,726
    90th Percentile: £95,847

    Now you can argue over whether they truly are full time given the flying hours, or whether they are really London based, but they do appear to be paid in the bottom 10%

  24. @Ben L.
    No it’s backing out of what you agreed to do. Saying I will do something for X amount of pay then deciding not to is not negotiations. It’s not living up to your end of an agreement.

  25. @J
    And how long/much cost of living increase should they agree to? Never seen an employment contract that covers that..,
    In the U.K. the cost of accommodation in London can easily mean you need £10k more in London than the North of England to be above the poverty line!

  26. I read that the salary “starts” at just over £12,000 plus £3 an hour flying pay (i.e. your back-of-the-envelope calculation of £15,000) plus practically no costs to fly around the world.

    This is not bad at all for a job that simply requires being 18 years old. A university degree is not required, nor, apparently, having successfully graduated high school. https://jobs.ba.com/jobs/vacancy/cabin-crew-london-heathrow—mixed-fleet-0466/484/description/ajaxaction/downloadfile/?id=228347&pagestamp=782a3ff0-88df-4ba4-9acc-450fdca630e8

    I assume that with promotions you can reach the £21,000 and £25,000 level (although it’s unclear when), which is not bad at all for not having graduated college.

    Personally, it would be great if BA would both improve the earnings and establish a requirement for a university degree. I would feel better if my safety was looked after by someone who demonstrated the skills to complete an education.

  27. Did they have to choose the holidays to go on strike… so many people will be stranded in airports at a very crucial time when they need to be with family…arrghh

  28. Pathetic pay. Even first year baggage handler in the US for the big three airlines make way more than that. And i’m not even count it wih their overtimes pay.

  29. @Andrew, I’m glad that these skilled workers exist just to give you something pretty to look at. Can you let us know where you work so we can come by your workplace and check out your ass and package and see if we think you deserve to have a job too?

  30. @Joey, thanks! I’m flying LHR to LAX on 12/28. A380. Not on that list but I’ll still proceed with caution.

  31. According to the union statement, pay was supposed to start at 21k going back to 2010. If that is what is in the contract, and they are not making at least that (based on meeting the number of hours, etc. established in the contract), I can understand why they would strike. At the same time, I find it hard to believe these crews would take 6 years to strike if the numbers put out there were true. I also have an issue with using the assumption of flying 1,000 hours per year, which works out to only 20 hours per week flying (assuming a 2 week holiday).

  32. @ DavisFLSt8 — Crew only gets paid when the door of the plane is closed, so about 20 “flight hours” a week is pretty standard, I think.

  33. My NYE may well be screwed as my post Xmas Berlin trip could be at risk. However I also support the mixed fleet cabin crew; I earn a lot more than they do and in my view they are working for very very poor wages in the South East of England. It’s not good enough simply to say that because you initially sign a contract you can never expect or hope for an improvement in circumstances.

    I also struggle to understand how any professionally qualified individual was earning £5000 p.a. full time in London in 1991….

  34. 15K GBP is extremely low. You cannot live in Greater London or the South East with less than double of that

  35. @Leo: by using “soft money” from departmental fund to create a research assistant post for a foreign medical professional, which was classified as “[work]-permit-free postgraduate training program”. As such, it did NOT lead to the much coveted “indefinite leave in the UK” stamp……. Again: I knew about the conditions and I took it, and never complained (despite what “Ben L” aka “the pinhead from the peanut gallery” said. What a troll he is…..)

  36. @tiffany only being paid once doors close is pretty standard for US airlines, not rest of the world. In the case of BA mixed fleet the £3 per hour kicks in from check in to check out, which is a slight error in the article. So a 6 day trip to Sydney via Singapore is only ~44 hours flying time but is 144 hours away and the payment is based on the time away so a CC member would get ~£432 (3×144). This money isn’t exactly ‘flight pay’, it’s their allowance to cover expenses down route. This is important as it’s treated differently in the eyes of the UK taxman.

  37. @Andrew – ah yes, your ability to objectify FAs with their constant turnover of young, exhausted crew is clearly more important than their ability to make a living wage, lesson their personal stress and increase their health so they can provide you better service and can be more alert for the safety aspects of the job.

  38. Here’s an idea: if the difference is between crappy pay and not having a job at all, you’ll sign up for crappy pay so you don’t starve to death. That doesn’t make it acceptable to take advantage of people’s desperation to pay them whatever you want out of greed. If airlines had their way, their employees would work in slave like conditions, because all they care about is the bottom line. Try having some compassion for your fellow human beings while you’re chugging champagne in first class.

  39. Two questions.

    1. Why did these poor folks take the job? Seems to me if its poverty wages, these attractive skilled invididuals should be bartending or something. Makes me think they took the job thinking the wage was entry level and it would scale up. Wonder if BA led them on in that regard.

    2. It’s well documented that medical professionals get paid a pittance during training in exchange for a payoff down the right. They’re fully allowed to complain about that or not complain about that. Don’t see how it’s at all relevant.

  40. @Andrew I would much rather have older, nicer, experienced flight attendants on board than younger, better looking, perhaps rude, perhaps drowsy flight attendants who didn’t have a good night sleep the night before and won’t perform as well on their next flight because of that, but hey at least they’re a 10 right?

  41. I am currently engaged in negotiating an enterprise agreement here in Australia, an eye opening experience.

    My great frustration is that throughout the process the organisation of which I am part is required under legislation to act and bargain in good faith. Everything is documented, all claims treated equally and respectfully considered regardless of the how outlandish or baseless. We are required to act in this way, else the other party has the opportunity to have a judgement made against us for failing to abide by the terms of good faith bargaining. Additionally I am bound to act within the bounds of professional ethics and conduct of my institution, any failure to do so could lead to me being struck of the members register and lose my livelihood.

    The union on the other hand are bound by no such constraints and have demonstrated a willingness throughout the process to deliberately misrepresent the position of the organisation (a not for profit I might add) in order to generate discontent amongst and otherwise content work force. They make inflammatory and untrue statements with little or no basis of fact, and no need to consider accountability. I wonder how the employees round the bargaining table are able to look their colleagues in the eye when they present some of the unions positions, knowing the actual discussions that took place. The union in this is a rational actor, their purpose in the exercise is to generate new memberships by ‘winning’ in some way. They have attempted to legitimise their positions through surveying our staff, asking loaded questions with no attempt to present both sides – unsurprisingly the results of these surveys come back looking like the result of a North Korean election – 99.9% in favor.

    So I will excuse myself if I take the unions pronouncements at less than face value – especially when they use the same inflammatory language. Draconian. Poverty pay. Humiliating etc. This is how they deal with a little not for profit – imagine how they act against a corporate.

  42. I am in awe at the lack of empathy in some of these comments. It is a disgrace that a company like BA pays its flight attendants such miserable wages. Sadly, they are not alone. I sit at the pointy end of the airplane (and I don’t mean first class) and I can assure you that your flight attendants are not there to solely please you with looks or service. Their primary duty is your safety, just as it is ours, and should the flight end badly, you will surly be grateful for a profesional and alert cabin crew to evacuate your behinds. That takes adequate rest, proper hotels, humane schedules and yes, most definitely pay. It should be painfully obvious to all, that near poverty wages have a direct effect on fatigue and hence safety. I don’t think they are asking for cockpit pay, just decency on behalf of BA. Sure, the truth may lay somewhere in the middle, but clearly these crews are woefully underpaid.

  43. Sorry, I know this question isn’t really related to the article — but since we’re talking about BA, I had a question I’m hoping someone might know the answer to. If I use BA’s option to pay for a hotel using Avios, specifically for an SPG property, will I receive “stay” credit towards the Platinum 25 stays requirement? Thanks!

  44. >in 1991 I was “making” 5,000GBP per year

    what rubbish, I was earning twice that in 91 as a student within spitting distance to LHR The main difference is at the time is that housing costs were dirt cheap.

    15K is slave labour for london, you can earn more at heathrow working security.

  45. Shut up, pilot monkey. The FA’s knew the pay when they took the job. To intentionally now screw over the passengers? Strikers should be shot. You do not have the right to inconvenience others because of your own lack of earning ability.

  46. @Steve. ……..or if you were, not from those countries which were consider inferior by the British…….(the one I was from)

  47. Loving some of the uninformed comments here (Fred you’re clearly a special type of ignoramus and should probably do everyone a favour and crawl back under your rock). The FAs’ union is claiming that their members were promised a salary of “between £21,000 and £25,000” and “in reality [earn] just over £12,000 plus £3 an hour flying pay” and BA doesn’t appear to be disputing this in any of their statements – that’s the issue here.

    Those saying that the FAs knew what they were signing up for (and so shouldn’t be complaining now) clearly haven’t put in the slightest bit of effort to understand what’s actually going on.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38319538

  48. It’s a perfect example of corporate greed.

    If BA (or IAG) was in a desperate state of affairs financially with salary cuts across the board perhaps they would garner a little sympathy. But what we have is an airline raking in over a billion pounds per annum in profits and paying their top managers multi millions of pounds in salary. On the flipside they are drastically reducing the customer experience and paying their new hires dismal pay.

    I think people generally are fed up with this ‘the rich get richer at the expense of the worker’ mentality. It’s worse than Victorian times.

  49. I started in 1985 with BA as cabin crew, and earned more then than they do now.
    And no, they won’t get a chance to get to 21000 pa as the salary increase to the in charge crew member is approx £600 pa.
    One of the biggest issues is the amount of flying that they *don’t* do, so they have no idea how much they will earn each month; some get a lot of flights, some only a few.
    How do you plan your life when you can only rely on just over basic salary?

  50. Ben, do your research mate.

    £3 is not solely flying pay, it’s away from base pay. So if they spend 9 days away on a Singapore/Sydney trip at £3 an hour, do that once a month that equates to £7,700 extra a year, then add to that the other little trips in-between and performance based bonuses that’s how you get to £21,000 p/a.

    If they choose to spend their money down route in bars and nice restaurants then that’s their choice. Silly little kids expecting to get £21k and still have free holidays. BA send them to these countries to work, rest, and fly. What they do in spare time is their choosing and not BA responsibility.

  51. Flight Attendants are not low skilled workers. Most airlines requires at least a college degree 2-4 years and / or extensive customer service experience. Most European airlines are even requiring 2 or more languages to even be considered. Lufthansa just implemented the rule that all cabin crew to get a bachelors degree within the next few years in order to qualify for raises. In the US it’s easier to get into Harvard than to become a FA for a major airline. But at these carriers, pay rate starts at a minimum of $26+ per hour and top off at $67+ per hour base pay. Add ons and can easily double base pay. Earning $4us per hour each flight is shameful. I support a strike Mixed Crews. Hit them where it hurts. Good luck to you all!!!!!

  52. Yes Ben £3ph is away from base pay. 9 days in Singapore/Sydney pays well but may only come up once a year if that. What about when they are put in a hotel in Nairobi or somewhere where they are advised not to leave the hotel – that money has to buy food at that hotel – they can’t even afford breakfast! They then live off Pot Noodle and Brunch Bars and when they inevitably get ill they won’t be getting their away from base pay. Yes they signed up for the contract but it is because usually it is a job they have dreamed of doing all their lives. People compliment the legacy crew because of their experience – you will never get that on Mixed Fleet as they are forced to leave after a couple of years because of the wages.
    Free flights – not for 7 years so I don’t think anyone on MF will qualify for those and as for the discounted travel they get now they don’t have the money to take advantage of it.
    As for your “silly kids” comments get over yourself I can just imagine what sort of passenger you are!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *