London Heathrow faces ‘summer of strikes’

British Airways (BA) staff at London's Heathrow airport voted on Thursday to strike over pay, threatening disruption at one of Europe's busiest aviation hubs during an already chaotic summer for air travellers.

Air passengers across Europe have already faced lengthy delays and cancellations of hundreds of flights in recent weeks as airports struggle to cope with a shortage of trained staff and large post-pandemic demand.

Any strike at Heathrow is likely to add to the pressure.

The proposed industrial action concerns less than half of the airline's Heathrow-based check-in and ground staff who largely interact with customers, such as assisting passengers and handling baggage.

The GMB union said 95 percent of BA staff at Heathrow airport who voted, backed strike action after BA failed to roll back a 10 percent pay cut imposed during the pandemic. Around 700 workers had been balloted, of whom 80 percent voted.

The strike would likely take place during the peak summer holiday period over the next two months, GMB said, warning Heathrow would likely face a “summer of strikes”. Workers must give two weeks’ notice to BA before carrying out any strike.

The news also comes during a week when much of Britain's rail network is crippled by industrial action as union bosses and train operators face-off over demands that workers' pay increases to keep pace with surging inflation.

“We're extremely disappointed with the result,” British Airways, owned by International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG), said in an emailed statement.

“Despite the extremely challenging environment ... we made an offer of a 10 percent payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues. We are fully committed to work together to find a solution.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman said British Airways should make contingency plans to minimise disruption.

GMB said British Airways' senior management had had their pre-pandemic salaries reinstated while ground staff hadn't. IAG Chief Executive Luis Gallego received a total pay of GBP 1.1 mln (EUR 1.63 mln) in 2021, the company's most recent annual report showed.

“BA have tried to offer our members crumbs from the table in the form of a 10 percent one-off bonus payment, but this doesn't cut the mustard,” GMB National Officer Nadine Houghton said in a statement.

A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport would “support British Airways to minimise any potential disruption to passengers.”

Demand for air travel has been stronger than expected as Heathrow incidentally on Thursday raised its forecast for passenger numbers this year to 54.4 million from the previously expected 53 million.