BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 01:59 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

What perks have BA staff actually lost?

passengers waiting for plane

The Magazine answers...

British Airways has withdrawn travel perks from its striking staff. But exactly what have those affected lost?

Many jobs come with perks, but few can rival those of the airline industry. So when British Airways announced this week it was permanently withdrawing certain staff benefits from strikers, it prompted a harsh response from the striking workers' union.

All BA employees, whether ground staff, cabin crew or pilots, are eligible for non-contractual travel perks, which take effect six months after joining the company. Staff, and their family, or a close friend, qualify for heavily discounted air fares.

Staff and family/close friend get tickets at 10% of face value
Reciprocal agreements with other airlines
But tickets are standby only - so there is no guarantee of a seat

It means a family, who might shell out several thousand pounds for a long-haul holiday, can make the journey for a fraction of what most customers pay. However, airport taxes must still be paid.

Tickets are for economy class, unlimited and cost just 10% of the full fare. But certain conditions apply - chiefly that all staff must travel standby. A standby ticket entitles a passenger to travel a certain route but is not pegged to a particular flight.

So if the flight is full with fare-paying passengers, they must wait and hope for an empty seat on the next one.

And while there is a reciprocal arrangement - so BA staff can travel on other airlines - priority is given to each airline's employees before competitors are considered.

Some tickets are upgradeable. This privilege depends on an employee's position in the company and time served, says a BA spokesperson, who declined to give specific details.

Each employee must nominate a set of people who can benefit from the discounted tickets.

Free tickets

This depends on their personal situation. Someone who is married can bring along their spouse or civil partner and however many children they have. A single person can bring a member of their direct family or a close friend.

Sleeping passenger
Sometimes staff end up waiting days for space on a flight

But in any case, the people cannot be chosen haphazardly - they must be included in the worker's list of "nominees". Most employees have between one and three people on their list, says a BA spokesperson. It can be changed every six months.

The one hard-and-fast rule is that the employee has to be one of the people flying.

After five years of working for BA, employees get one allocation of free standby tickets each year. Those with 20 years service receive an additional set each year. Again, taxes still apply.

Staff travel perks are non-contractual and have traditionally been a huge incentive for drawing people into the industry, according to John Strickland, an aviation analyst and former BA employee.

But as air fares have fallen in recent years - thanks to budget airlines - their desirability has waned slightly.

Airline industry perks are guaranteed to be the envy of ordinary fare-paying passengers, but waiting for hours at an airport is one of the downsides, says Mr Strickland.

He remembers being stuck in Los Angeles for four days. If he hadn't left when he did, he would have been late for work - an excuse airlines don't tend to accept, he says.

The budget deal

"There's always that risk element in it," he says, noting how staff passengers will often only find out whether they've got a seat minutes before a flight leaves. "There's definitely a lot of red-faced running to the gate."

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Paying customers "always come first," according to BA. Staff get low priority - if there is a paying passenger waiting for the flight, they get on before the worker.

And while such perks are available across much of the industry, not all airlines are in on the arrangement.

Staff with budget airline Easyjet have their own benefits scheme. From their first day, they can log onto a special website to receive discounted fares to Easyjet's network across 29 countries.

On average, an Easyjet employee pays £25-30 per ticket each way. The unlimited travel is extended to workers' dependents and up to three "nominated companions".

Although the discount airline does not operate on a standby basis, the perks are restricted and staff can book flights up to three-months in advance.

"We recognise that our employees are vital to the success of Easyjet and we reward their hard work with some excellent benefits," says spokesman Andrew McConnell.

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