After British Airways more or less broke its flight attendants union in 2010 — flight attendants went on strike, BA continued flying with replacement workers — the airline got a two-tiered wage structure.
- Existing flight attendants were kept on and known as the ‘Worldwide’ Fleet
- New flight attendants were hired as a new work group, the ‘Mixed’ Fleet
- New flight attendants were paid substantially less, although at least for awhile customers found that they provided much better service.
Of course everything old is new again, as the Mixed Fleet grew it began to strike. About a third (5500) of British Airways cabin crew are part of this group, and at least some of them they’re planning to strike again July 1-16.
Pilots can bring an airline to its knees, but flight attendants are more replaceable and so their unions aren’t usually as strong.
Brian Sumers writes in Skift about how British Airways is preparing for this impending strike: they’re applying to wet lease aircraft from Qatar Airways.
- Qatar Airways has excess narrowbody planes right now, since they cannot fly to many of their neighboring countries due to a diplomatic dispute.
- Qatar Airways owns about 20% of British Airways parent IAG
- So it makes sense for BA to go to Qatar to lease some A320 or A321 planes and crew that are underutilized in order to pick up the slack from the expected strike.
Of course British Airways narrowbodies offer 30 inch pitch seating — even in business class. This is the new, worse coach legroom that American Airlines is preparing to introduce on its new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. And British Airways service is… mixed… at best.
Qatar Airways offers both a better product, and better service. If British Airways can wet least aircraft from Qatar Airways — planes and crews — customers may never want the strike to end.
British Airways is justifying the move to wet least non-EU registered aircraft in a regulatory filing “on the basis of exceptional needs.” No doubt there will be pushback from unions seeking to scuttle approval of the leases.
The real risk for British Airways though is that its customers could get used to better seats and better service.