By Vanni Gibertini
British Airways To Axe Its Short-Haul Network At London Gatwick
There had been some hints throughout the past several months, but this time there is an official communication by the carrier itself: following a failed negotiation with the pilots’ union BALPA (British Air Line Pilots Association), British Airways had decided to cancel almost all its short-haul flights from London Gatwick and maintain only a small number of domestic routes to feed its long-haul services.
“After many years of losing money on European flights from the airport, we were clear that coming out of the pandemic, we needed a plan to make Gatwick profitable and competitive”, a spokesman for the airline said, as reported by Airways Magazine. “With regret we will now suspend our short-haul operations at Gatwick, with the exception of a small number of domestic services connecting to our long-haul operations, and will pursue alternative uses for the London Gatwick short-haul slots”.
British Airways had announced that its intention was to set up a new low-cost airline based at Gatwick, but it could not agree with BALPA on the employment conditions for the personnel at the new carrier. British Airways’ parent company, IAG, already has two low-cost airlines in its portfolio: Spanish-based short-haul airline Vueling and Level Airlines, also based in Spain, that focuses on leisure long-haul routes. However, none of these carriers was considered suitable for the Gatwick operations, hence the attempt to set up a new one.
Before the pandemic, London Gatwick airport used to be the busiest single-runway airport in the world and the main leisure airport in the United Kingdom. It is the largest base for low-cost airline easyJet and has significant operations also by other leisure carriers like Wizz Air and Jet2.
According to British newspaper The Telegraph, British Airways was planning to offer the captains at its new low-cost unit a salary package almost 30% lower than what is offered to pilots at rival easyJet. This would have made the new Gatwick-based carrier’s cost base competitive with other airlines serving the same leisure markets in Europe and on the Mediterranean Sea.
The British flag carrier has been famous for driving a very hard bargain in negotiations with its staff, and it is not possible to exclude that the drastic decision to axe its short-haul network out of Gatwick is only a negotiating move to obtain more concession from the trade unions.
During the worst days of the pandemic, when air traffic was reduced by more than 90% compared to historical levels, British Airways was harshly criticized for its unscrupulous practices towards its personnel. In order to obtain substantial pay concession from its workers, it threatened to lay off most of its employees in the cargo division and rehire them immediately afterward under different contracts granting lower wages and concessions.
British Airways still maintains ownership of the majority of slots at Gatwick, which are going to be extremely valuable once traffic recovers, since the airport used to operate at full capacity before the pandemic, and it serves a very sought-after catchment area including the Southern part of London.