At the eleventh hour, a strike by employees of a catering company that feeds British Airways’ Heathrow hub was put off.
The walkout threatens to cause a new round of mass flight cancellations for British Airways, which has already been battered by several waves of disruption in recent weeks.
In a dispute over wages and pension contributions, some 100 food truck drivers employed by the luxury airline catering service DO & CO planned a 48-hour walkout from the 4th to the 5th of March.
Flights might have been canceled, according to the Unite union, because cabin crew and pilots must be provided with food and water during flights as part of their contract. Long-haul flights were expected to be affected more than short-haul European routes.
In recent days, British Airways sought to reassure employees and passengers by stating that it had “strong” contingency measures in place, but the carrier has yet to specify whether some flights may have been canceled.
Because lorry drivers who drive ‘high lift’ food trucks were on strike, their work could not be filled in by managers or office employees because the lorries require special licenses to operate.
“The impact would be most severe on flights of more than six hours in duration – three hours to the destination and three back to the UK. No food on board equals no flights,” warned the Unite union’s regional officer Shereen Higginson.
DO & CO employees are paid “among of the lowest rates in the London region,” according to the union. The union also has a pension plan disagreement with the Vienna-based catering company.
Other airlines served by DO & CO at Heathrow Airport, notably Emirates, may have been affected by the strike.
Since ditching Gate Gourmet in 2019, British Airways has employed DO & CO for all of its food needs at Heathrow. Staff at Gate Gourmet went on strike in 2005, causing BA flights to be halted due to a dispute over dismissed employees.
The strike spread to BA’s baggage handlers and aircraft loaders, who went on strike in support of the catering workers, who were represented by the same union. To reach a resolution, BA had to interfere directly in the Gate Gourmet issue.
In a growing fight over wages and benefits, the GMB union, which represents BA ground personnel at Heathrow, warned customers on Monday that they could expect a “summer of turmoil.”