British Airways has introduced a flexible rebooking policy for passengers due to return the UK after the introduction of a mandatory quarantine period on passengers arriving in the UK.
The UK government has announced a mandatory 14 quarantine period on all passengers arriving in the UK from Monday 8 June. Full details, including exemptions for transit passengers, are on the UK government website.
Any passenger who is mid-journey and due to return to the UK on a BA operated flight between 8 June and Sunday 28 June 2020 can rebook on to an alternative BA flight from Wednesday 27 May to Sunday 7 June 2020.
Of course, BA schedules are extremely limited at the moment. The airline is operating a small number of long-haul flights at London Heathrow Terminal 5 to key US destinations such as Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York JFK and Washington Dulles. If you are due to return from another airport in North America, you should be able to return via an airport where flights are operating. Short-haul schedules are also significantly reduced.
Passengers can check the status of their booking using the Manage My Booking tool on ba.com and should contact BA if they need to change their booking. If your flight is cancelled you are entitled to a full refund.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 25 May 2020.
BA’s War Of Words With Trade Unions
A war of words has broken out between BA and its trade unions over planned redundancies and changes to staff terms and conditions.
On Friday, BA CEO Alex Cruz sent a message to staff which was leaked to the Financial Times. According to this, BA is having “productive conversations” with its pilots union BALPA. It is also claimed that representatives from GMB and Unite, who represent cabin crew and ground staff, have not attended any meetings with the airline.
“Consultation is so important, and productive conversations are already being held with Balpa. I am sorry that neither Unite nor GMB have attended any of the daily meetings they are invited to so that they can provide ideas and input into any of the other proposed changes, and maximise the number of jobs saved.”
Unite claims the consultation is a sham and has instead chosen to run a public campaign against the airline accusing it of betrayal.
Taken at face value, this appears to be worrying for BA staff who are caught between the two sides.
The unions’ strongest leverage at the moment is the repeated and on the record comments by IAG CEO Willie Walsh to its investors and MPs that it will engage in a “genuine and meaningful” consultation “with a view to reaching an agreement” in accordance with legislation on labour relations.
History has shown that BA and its trade unions can sometimes, against all expectations and far more often than they are given credit for, achieve a lot behind closed doors.
History has also shown that when there is a mandate for change from the top of the airline stonewalling doesn’t work and change will be imposed. BA will also sit out any negative publicity.
It is possible that this, like previous incidences where BA has imposed change when talks with unions break down, could result in litigation. Whilst there are “optics” and political scrutiny surrounding this, the consultation process BA has initiated is a formal legal one. If this does go to court, it will focus on the adherence of all sides to the legal process and not what IAG would term “the noise”.
Virgin Raises Funds To Support Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Group has raised $366m by selling down part of its stake in Virgin Galactic. It will retain a 40% stake in the space tourism business.
The proceeds will be used to support Virgin branded businesses. There’s been little news on potential new investors in Virgin Atlantic. Meanwhile, according to Sky News, lenders to the airline have appointed the professional services firm Deloitte to advise on their financial exposure to the airline.
On the question of state support for airlines, today’s Financial Times reports that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has agreed to a state bailout plan to save, in exceptional circumstances, “strategically important” companies whose failure would “disproportionately harm the economy” and are “viable companies which have exhausted all options” including existing government loan schemes.
This may pave the way for state support for airlines that are unable to qualify for existing government support schemes.
Sir Stelios Presses On
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou is undeterred having failed to oust four easyJet directors last Friday.
Sir Stelios has alleged that there were voting irregularities which could have affected the result. He is also pressing on with a campaign to encourage whistle blowers to come forward with information on alleged irregularities in connection with the order for new aircraft from Airbus.
Even if this comes to nothing, it may not be the end of the rancour between Sir Stelios and easyJet.
easyJet licences its brand name from Sir Stelios. Full details are on the easyJet website. The two sides have previously reached an out of court settlement over disputes in relation to the licence. easyJet agreed a new licence agreement in December 2010 for 50 years and a minimum term of ten years, which conveniently expires later this year.
Passengers whose flights have been cancelled are entitled to a full refund. You will need to call BA to secure this. You can check the status of your booking using the Manage My Booking tool on ba.com. If you cancel your flight through ba.com you will be given a voucher which can be exchanged for travel up to and including 30 April 2022.
Passengers do not need to do anything differently. They will not be stopped by any members of staff. Whilst Heathrow insists that no personally identifiable data will be gathered, passengers also have the option of taking a different route to avoid the cameras if they wish.
British Airways is currently offering vouchers to passengers whose flights have been cancelled, or who do not wish to travel, due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
In addition, passengers making new bookings up to Friday 31 July 2020 for travel up to Thursday 31 December 2020 also have the option to exchange the value of the ticket for a voucher.
These can be exchanged for travel on flights carrying a BA flight number up to and including 30 April 2022. Full details of these policies, which are regularly updated, are on ba.com
Initially, vouchers could not be used on either of BA’s franchise partners, Comair and Sun-Air. In the case of Comair this was particularly frustrating given its network in Africa.
Comair’s hub is based in Johannesburg and domestic destinations include Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth. Other destinations include Harare, Livingstone, Mauritius, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.
BA has today, Wednesday 20 May 2020, updated its guidance and Comair is no longer excluded.
Comair has suspended operations and does not expect to resume flights until the autumn. The airline is in a “business rescue” process whereby it will undergo a financial restructuring. A business rescue plan will be published for approval by its creditors in June. The underlying business is considered by the business rescue practitioners to be fundamentally sound, so the airline is expected to resume operations. It is not known whether this will have an impact on its franchise agreement with BA. Though BA continues to sell flights operated by Comair. It seems implausible that in the event of restructuring there won’t be some form of ongoing partnership between the two airlines.
British Airways has introduced a new flexible booking policy for its corporate customers and members of its “On Business” loyalty programme for small and medium-sized businesses.
The airline currently has a “book with confidence” policy. This applies to all new bookings made up to Friday 31 July 2020 for travel up to Thursday 31 December 2020, whereby any change fees will be waived.
BA is also allowing all passengers due to travel up to 31 July 2020 to exchange the value of their ticket for a voucher for travel up to 30 April 2022. Full details of these policies are available on ba.com
Free Name Change for Corporate and On Business Bookings
BA has added a new policy for corporate customers and members of its On Business loyalty programme for small and medium-sized businesses.
For the avoidance of doubt, a corporate customer is one travelling on behalf of an organisation which has a specifically negotiated deal with the airline, rather than business travellers in general. These bookings have a specific identifier for the corporate customer.
BA now allows one free change of name for all existing Corporate and On Business bookings (excluding codeshares) ticketed before Thursday 14 May 2020 for travel up to Wednesday 30 September 2020.
It also applies to new bookings made between 14 May 2020 and 31 July 2020 for travel to be completed by 31 December 2020.
Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 18 May 2020.
Aviation Job Losses
It has been a grim week for anyone employed in the aviation industry.
By the end of the year the number of job losses will be counted in the hundreds of thousands. Air Canada alone last week announced it is to cut around 20,000 jobs out of its 38,000 strong workforce.
Closer to home, BA CityFlyer announced plans to make up to 72 of its 248 pilots redundant. Its pilot base in Edinburgh will also close. This is in addition to 12,000 planned redundancies at BA.
IAG CEO Willie Walsh appeared before the Transport Select Committee last week to answer questions about the planned restructuring of BA.
These hearings are almost always unsatisfying. The format of a large number of MPs, with at best varying levels of knowledge, taking turns to ask a question doesn’t work. When a barrister cross-examines a witness in court their first question is never the one they are seeking an answer to. Nor do they ask a question they don’t already know the answer to.
A further hearing is due to take place this Wednesday with evidence from BALPA, the Civil Aviation Authority and Unite.
If you read the transcript of last week’s hearing on potential job losses at BA, Willie Walsh, who is not actually responsible for leading negotiations at BA, makes reference to a “consultation” with elected trade union representatives nearly 50 times. It won’t be known for some weeks how meaningful this is and what proved to be a fait accompli.
Willie Walsh always been dismissive of what he terms “noise”. It is perhaps convenient for him to play the role of “Mr Nasty” in this as he is due to retire in September (much like his restructuring of BA before he left to head up IAG). However, like all major companies, IAG and BA need to be prepared for considerable continued political scrutiny.
IAG and other UK airlines have criticised plans to introduce a 14 day quarantine regime for passengers arriving in the UK.
Whilst some countries in Europe are beginning to reopen borders, there is no consensus on how a proposed 14 day quarantine period of passengers arriving in the UK will work.
Based on reports in the Sunday papers, there are disagreements between ministers on who should be exempt. One government adviser briefed The Sunday Times that it is a “shit show”. Today’s lead article in The Times suggests that exemptions will be largely limited to lorry drivers.
Speaking to Sky News yesterday, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye has called for flights to restart between the UK and low risk countries.
Heathrow will also deploy thermal imaging technology at Terminal 2 this week to screen arriving passengers, though this not yet part of any official government policy.
Elliott Management Circles Virgin Atlantic
As Virgin Atlantic seeks new investment it is inevitable that names of potential suitors will leak to the press.
Many will come to nothing. However, a report from the Sunday Telegraph that Elliott Management is interested in the airline can’t go unnoticed.
Led by Paul Singer, Elliott Management is the world’s most feared activist investor. It is notorious for taking stakes in companies it considers to be underperforming – recent targets include AT&T and Twitter – publicly documenting at length management failings and demanding significant changes in strategy.
British Airways has extended its “book with confidence” policy for new flight bookings.
Passengers who have made bookings since 3 March 2020 for travel up to Thursday 31 December 2020 have the flexibility to change their bookings without incurring a change fee, or to exchange the value of their ticket for future travel up to 30 April 2022.
This policy was due to end on Sunday 31 May 2020. It has now been extended to all new bookings made up to Friday 31 July 2020.
Separate to this, all passengers due to travel up to 31 July 2020 already have the option to exchange the value of their ticket for a voucher for future travel up to 30 April 2022. This applies regardless of when the booking was made.
Virgin Atlantic has confirmed its planned route network at London Heathrow following its decision to suspend flights at London Gatwick for the foreseeable future.
The airline plans to gradually resume services throughout 2020 with a view to restoring a full flying programme in the summer of 2021.
The following routes will remain at London Heathrow:
Atlanta, Boston, Cape Town (winter seasonal), Delhi, Havana, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Lagos, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Mumbai, New York JFK, San Francisco, Seattle, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Washington Dulles.
Virgin has previously suspended Newark and dropped plans to launch Sao Paulo.
Delta, Virgin’s transatlantic joint-business partner, has not confirmed when it plans to resume services from London Heathrow.
The following former Gatwick routes will operate at London Heathrow from Sunday 28 March 2021:
Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Montego Bay, Orlando.
Virgin has previously suspended St Lucia.
Note that at the time of publication, Virgin is still selling these destinations on its website from Gatwick. It is likely that these destinations will be allocated new flight numbers when they transfer to Heathrow.
Virgin has not confirmed exact frequencies for its Heathrow schedule, other than that Tel Aviv will increase to twice daily.
Virgin Atlantic is currently operating from London Heathrow Terminal 2. No date has been set for its return to Terminal 3.
IAG CEO Willie Walsh appeared before the Transport Select Committee today, Monday 11 May 2020.
Ostensibly, the hearing was about the aviation industry’s response to COVID-19. Though most of the hearing focused on the proposed restructuring of BA. There had evidently been a considerable amount of lobbying of MPs beforehand.
Those who have seen select committee hearings before will know that the level of knowledge on display and quality of questioning by MPs varies widely. There can also be grandstanding by MPs. That certainly applied today.
Quarantine of passengers arriving in the UK
Willie Walsh strongly criticised the decision by the UK government to impose a mandatory quarantine period on passengers arriving in the UK.
Citing the lack of scientific evidence for this decision, Willie says it will prompt IAG to review plans to restart schedules from July. The government has yet to publish full details of how the quarantine regime will work. It is likely that BA will continue to operate a minimal schedule whilst the quarantine is in operation.
BA at London City & Gatwick Airports
There has been speculation about the future of BA at London Gatwick airport.
Willie Walsh says BA still has a future at London Gatwick. BA flights are currently suspended at the airport until July. It is seen as a better airport than Heathrow in many ways, with a more commercial management team and an attractive customer base.
Willie has long had little time for Heathrow airport management, particularly their lack of commerciality. Heathrow has, historically at least, never had to make any effort to attract airlines due to the fact they will willingly pay tens of millions to operate one single return flight a day.
London City airport, which is still closed, is considered the most challenged London airport due to the fact business travel will take some time to return.