British Airways: The mundane reality

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Last month's ballot result for industrial action by British Airways cabin crews showed how widespread the fear and anger about management attacks was.

With an 80 percent turnout, it was not just a militant minority who voted by 92.5 percent to strike.

The BBC described the move as "nuclear". But British Airways left its cabin crew with no choice.

Yet we were denied the right to strike by the courts. How can any strike ballot be legal under these anti-union laws? There will always be a turnover of staff in big organisations like BA.

Even if you took out the 1,000 union members who should not have got ballot papers there would still have been a huge mandate for a strike.

As soon as the ballot result was announced the media tried to whip up public anger against us. People I work with have suffered abuse on the tube travelling to the airport in uniform. The public have been told we have a glamorous lifestyle and high salaries. They do not know the truth about the pay and conditions of most BA workers.

My working day starts two hours before my report or check-in time. I can't give an exact time as yesterday it was 1.50pm, today it's 8.30am and tomorrow it's 6.45am. Working such random shifts means there is no way of having any routine or sleep pattern.

Once at work I check in and print off a crew list. As per normal I don't know any of the names. Then it's off to my briefing room to meet the rest of the crew but if one of the crew is running late, even 30 seconds late, you are taken off your trip. Then you are replaced by someone on standby.

Being on standby means you sit in Terminal Five and wait for six hours to see if they need you. You could get called for anything - from Manchester and back to a three-day trip.

Today we are off to Brussels and back. We call this a "there and back". The flight is full, as are most of our flights at the moment, with eight in Club Europe and 120 in Euro Traveller. However, due to the newly enforced crewing levels we only have three crew. This means some passengers might not get a drink or a snack, which is what the passenger pays for and sets us apart from the low-cost carriers.

Yesterday we ran out of time and 42 passengers had to go without a drink or snack. We were also unable to clear out the majority of the rubbish and had to ask passengers to place their rubbish in the seat pocket in front of them. This is not safe. If we had to evacuate people would be tripping over their rubbish.

Many passengers complain to us about the loss of the sandwiches from shorter flights. British Airways class any flights under two and a half hours as short, so on a two-hour flight all you'll get is "birdseed" or a cookie.

This change has angered many cabin crew as we find it embarrassing. It's a bit of an insult to our skill and pride in the job to find ourselves having to give this out.

Back home now, after a six hour day and packing for my three day eight-sector (flight) trip tomorrow. Early night tonight for an early start tomorrow - my alarm is set for 4.45am. On my trip I will be going to Edinburgh, Rome, Budapest and Glasgow with a stop at Heathrow between each leg - that will be a 28 hour duty in three days.

It sounds nice on paper, to night-stop in Rome and Budapest but all I have time to do is order room service, watch BBC World News in my hotel room, which is the same as all the others in the world, and go to bed. Being away from home so much I've found it difficult to keep in contact with my friends. As much as Facebook helps, it is no substitute for real friends. I don't know how people cope with young children - I couldn't.

So far, British Airways, headed up by Willie Walsh, have imposed the crew level changes and vowed to destroy the unions. They also plan to bring in a new fleet which will steal work away from current crew.

The new crew will be earning an hourly rate that will put them on the minimum wage. They will be working longer and harder with less time off between flights so will be tired and unable to deal with an emergency situation.

We are skilled workers and this is unacceptable. By fighting the proposed changes, our trade unions, BASSA and Unite, are looking to protect the current and future crew. British Airways are trying to use this temporary downturn to bring in permanent changes and the cabin crew and our unions will not take it lying down.


Robert is a cabin crew worker for British Airways.