Faced with the prospect of a widespread pilot strike, British Airways is giving its customers some simple advice: "please do not go to the airport."
"After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this," the airline announced Monday, blaming a lack of progress in its talks with the British Airline Pilots Association.
"Unfortunately, with no detail from BALPA on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly," British Airways added in its statement, "so we had no option but to cancel nearly 100 percent [of] our flights."
The announcement comes amid the launch of a 48-hour walkout planned by the union, which is pushing for better benefits for pilots and what they say is a fairer share of the company's revenue. The airline says it has made pilots in the union "a generous offer of a 11.5% pay increase over three years."
But pilots, according to the union, "remain very angry with BA." They say the company has increased its profits — more than $3 billion annually, according to parent company International Airlines Group — on the backs of its pilots, with pay cuts and long hours.
The union, which says it represents 85% of all commercial pilots in the U.K., voted overwhelmingly to hang up their pilot caps Monday and Tuesday — and again on Sept. 27, if the acrimonious pay dispute remains unresolved at that point.
"British Airways needs to wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard," union General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement issued Sunday. "They've previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits."
"But the company's leaders, who themselves are paid huge salaries and have generous benefits packages, won't listen, are refusing to negotiate and are putting profits before the needs of passengers and staff," Strutton added. "This strike will have cost the company considerably more than the investment needed to settle this dispute."
It has been a rough couple of years for the airline, public relations-wise. Last year British Airways apologized for a data breach that exposed the personal information of customers involved in some 380,000 transactions; the year before, a series of IT failures caused chaos at its two major hubs out of London.
The canceled flights could affect as many as 145,000 passengers Monday, and in a lawsuit filed earlier this year the airline told a court the disruptions could cost it nearly $50 million a day. The union says that just over $6 million is what stands between the parties and an agreement.
Conflicting reports from the union and British Airways leave a hazy picture of where talks stand now. In its statement, the airline expressed that it is "ready and willing to return to talks" with the union; BALPA, meanwhile, asserted that British Airways outright ignored its latest proposal.
Either way, neither side seems to have softened its public rhetoric.
"It is by all accounts an own goal," the airline's chief executive, Alex Cruz, told the BBC. "It's going to punish customers, it's going to punish our brand, it's going to punish the rest of the colleagues."