Virgin Atlantic strike: Pilots to walkout over Christmas, causing mass travel disruption

Helen Coffey

Virgin Atlantic pilots who are members of the Professional Pilots Union (PPU) will strike over Christmas, the union has announced.

Walkouts are planned for 22 to 25 December, 30 December to 2 January and 4 to 7 January inclusive.

PPU members overwhelmingly backed strike action in a recent ballot, with 71.5 per cent of the 72 per cent of those who voted in favour of industrial action.

The ballot was called after the union was excluded from talks over proposed changes to pilot’s benefits. Virgin Atlantic does not recognise the PPU despite the fact it represents the largest number of the airline’s pilots, instead opting to deal only with the British Airline Pilots Association​ (Balpa).

“It’s the last straw; Virgin Atlantic have consistently refused to recognise the PPU as a legitimate and independent union, essentially disenfranchising our members,” said spokesman for the PPU, former Virgin and Red Arrows pilot Steve Johnson.

“Despite the rhetoric that consultations are inclusive of all staff and unions, in practice this doesn’t happen. We hope that Virgin acknowledge the mandate our members have given us, and help avoid strike action by recognising the PPU and halt the benefits review that is so damaging to our members long-term security.

“Our door is – and has always been – open to Virgin to take the necessary steps to prevent any disruption for Christmas travellers. This is such an easy fix for the company; by including all unions in negotiations – not just one selected by the company – it can then live up to its claimed inclusiveness and we can get round the table together to negotiate a sustainable outcome for our members.

“The pilot workforce is a professional and committed group that sees striking as anathema, but clearly feel bullied into this action by a company that chooses to ignore them.”

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told The Independent: “A small number of our pilots have voted for industrial action. Our absolute priority is to ensure that all of our customers can continue their journeys as planned this Christmas, and we’re working hard to protect all of their trips.”

They added that they do not expect any disruption to the flying programme.

The dispute was sparked by Virgin Atlantic negotiating with Balpa over a pilots’ Benefits Review, without consulting the PPU. The review will re-design the protections that pilots have as part of their contracts, including in cases of long-term sickness, enforced retirement from sickness, death in service payments and widow’s pensions.

It’s unknown at present just how many flights will be affected by the strike action. The PPU counts 304 members who are able to vote out of Virgin Atlantic’s 965 pilots; if all who voted in favour of industrial action joined the strike, 156 pilots would have to be replaced for Virgin Atlantic's flights to operate as scheduled.

The PPU was set up by Virgin Atlantic pilots in 2011 following a dispute with the company where pilots felt poorly represented by Balpa.