Last week’s operational disaster, which stranded tens of thousands of passengers, was “only the tip of the iceberg,” according to a leading union representing British Airways ground personnel at Heathrow Airport, and travelers should expect a “summer of mayhem.”
A catastrophic IT failure precipitated the collapse, which the GMB union attributes to BA’s choice to outsource its technical assistance to India in 2016. British Airways had a major IT outage in 2017, had its systems hijacked a year later, and is yet to reveal what caused the latest collapse.
According to the union’s national officer Nadine Houghton, British Airways employees were spat at and subjected to horrible homophobic insults last week, while others were forced to remove their uniforms to avoid being swarmed by furious passengers at Heathrow.
After hundreds of flights were canceled with little notice, staff were left to notify disabled customers that they would have to sleep in the airport and watch as distressed parents put their babies to sleep on luggage.
“Morale is at an all-time low after BA’s shameful attack on workers during the pandemic,” Houghton blasted on Monday. “BA is recruiting staff on to some of the lowest wages at Heathrow. Recruitment and retention is an issue that many fear will not be resolved in time for the peak season.”
Houghton has asked British Airways CEO Sean Doyle to “walk a mile” in the shoes of front-line employees who were abused last week.
British Airways has offered a one-time reimbursement to employees whose pay and benefits were reduced as a result of the pandemic. According to the union, this payment will only “paper over the fractures.”
Customer support agents have turned down the offer, resulting in an impending labor struggle.
BA’s notoriously fickle IT systems were down for nearly five hours on Friday evening, but the problems continued into Saturday, prompting the airline to cancel its entire short-haul schedule.
British Airways admitted that it had let its customers down and in a statement, a spokesperson commented: “We are sorry to our customers, it’s been a very difficult week and we can only apologize for any further disruption they may experience this evening.
“We are doing all we can to ensure that we provide up-to-date information about what is going on.”