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Monday 22 February, 2010

Good morning

A quick note about the situation with BA and its potentially striking cabin crew.  Results of their strike vote were announced a very short while ago.

But first, an update on the Lufthansa strike that I'd mentioned in Friday's newsletter.  What is the largest strike in the airline's history is continuing, although LH has filed for a court injunction to force its pilots back to work.  The injunction was scheduled to be heard late Monday afternoon, with a ruling on that hoped to be received on Tuesday.

One report says 'hundreds' of the airline's typically 2,000 flights a day have been grounded, another says that LH is only operating about one third of its normal flights, and a third source said, late on Monday, that LH has already cancelled 3,000 flights.

If you're booked to travel on LH, or if you're on a codeshare flight that is actually operated by LH, keep an eye on what is happening during this four day strike period (Monday through Thursday).

And now to British Airways.  The cabin crew union, Unite, have now announced the results of the month long ballot authorizing strike action.  80.7% of the 11,691 ballot papers issued were returned, and 78.7% supported going on strike.  We of course don't know the opinion of the 19.3% of cabin crew who didn't vote, but we do know that 78.7% of the 80.7% who did vote (ie 63.5% of all BA cabin crew) did support strike action, and that is a strong mandate for the union leaders to now threaten BA with, and is all the more strong because the members chose to support striking, notwithstanding BA's threats to punish/penalize any cabin crew who did go on strike.

So what happens next?  No-one knows, but there are some clues we can consider.

First, the union needs to give BA one week's notice of any strike that it will hold.

Second, the union will be holding a mass meeting of its members on this Thursday in London.  It is probable the union will announce its strike plans at that time.

Third, the union has promised not to disrupt Easter travel plans.  This year sees Good Friday fall on 2 April and Easter Sunday on 4 April.  We can assume that BA will operate normally probably from Thursday 1 April through Monday 5 April accordingly.

So the soonest the cabin crew might go on strike is one week from this Thursday, ie, 4 March.

How long will the strike be for?  Probably it will be for a set duration rather than an ongoing open ended strike.  We know that the cabin crew's failed attempt to strike around the Christmas period was going to be for 12 days, so it seems reasonable to assume a similar duration this time.

The union said earlier today it would not be announcing any strike dates yet as it hoped to continue negotiations with the airline.  Which creates an interesting duality.  Of course, the cabin crew don't want to strike and lose 12 days pay and possibly subsequent flight benefits in the future, so they'll be keen to continue negotiations with BA, and now that they can point to their strong support for a strike, they've got a stronger bargaining lever.  BA confirms that talks are continuing with the union, and there is a vague reference to 'progress being made' whatever that might mean.

From BA's perspective, it both wants and doesn't want a strike to occur soon.  On the one hand, each day/week of delay gives it more time to urgently put in place fall back alternate arrangements so as to help it continue flights during a strike.  On the other hand, the uncertainty in the market has to start costing it bookings, with people deciding there's too much risk with the uncertainty of a strike sometime in the future that might intrude on their travel plans.

So - tie this all together, and what do you have?

My guess - and it is only a guess - is that the union will announce at its Thursday meeting a strike to be held prior to Easter.  I'll guess that the week of 15 March is very vulnerable, with possibly the week before or the week after making up the balance of the 12 days strike.

BA will probably be able to continue operating something at least a quarter of its flights, maybe more, depending on how its plans to urgently create standby temporary flight attendants is progressing.  It is getting a lot of support from other employees, and even now has managed to get 1,000 volunteer currently serving pilots to agree to help man the cabins.  Of course, BA will selectively operate the most strategic flights so as to move the most people as best possible.  For example, look for short haul European services to be more affected than longer haul flights.

Of course, just like LH, there will be flow-on impact to any code-share flights marketed by other airlines but operated by BA.

So, for now, we're in a wait and see period, with the next announcement probably to occur on Thursday, nicely in time for Friday's regular newsletter.

What else - oh yes.  There's also to be a four day strike of French Air Traffic controllers starting on Tuesday that will affect hundreds of flights in/out of the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris this week.

With all these problems, air travel sure seems to be not much fun at present.  But, you know, we do have it fairly good, compared to what it was like back in 1927 with Charles Lindbergh's first trans-Atlantic flight, which took 33 hrs 30 mins (and 29.8 seconds).

Here's a fascinating four part video that chronicles his first flight, with a lot of work having gone into assembling original video footage of his departure in particular.  And if that arouses your interest in Lindbergh, here's a good Wikipedia article for some further reading, including some fascinating albeit somewhat salacious details of his later life.

Stay tuned for the regular newsletter on Friday, and until then, please enjoy safe travels

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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