British Airways has written an open letter to the travel trade appealing for its support as cabin crew strikes loom.

Richard Tams, the airline’s head of sales and marketing in the UK and Ireland, sent the letter to Travel Weekly, detailing the efforts BA is making to ensure that any disruption of services would be kept to a minimum in the event of a strike.

Negotiations with cabin crew broke down on Wednesday evening, with union Unite expected to make an announcement about industrial action by Monday March 15.

  Discuss the strike threat and Richard Tams’s letter

BA’s open letter to the trade

“I’m very aware that the Unite strike threat facing BA is a concern to the travel trade. I wanted to take this opportunity to update you through Travel Weekly on our latest position.

“I also want to ask you to stick with us and to thank you for your support. We’ve been overwhelmed by the goodwill you’ve shown.

“I recognise that the travel trade has a choice as to which airlines it recommends to its customers. I also recognise a strike threat leads to uncertainty. We have increased the level of communications to you via our sales force and I hope this has been useful. We will continue to ensure you receive timely communications to enable you to look after your clients.

“To give some background to the dispute, we have been in talks with Unite for over a year in an effort to realise cabin crew cost savings. We are enduring the toughest financial period in aviation’s history and thousands of staff across the airline have already made contributions to the cost-reduction programme.

“In November 2009, we introduced modest changes to onboard Heathrow crew numbers that brings them in line with the levels we have on our Gatwick flights. The new numbers are well within international aviation standards – as an example, they require just eight crew on a Boeing 777 and now, after our changes, use up to 11. The changes made accommodated cabin crew requests for part-time working and voluntary redundancy.

“Unite has repeatedly demanded that we reverse these changes and in December called a 12-day strike that would have affected hundreds of thousands of customers’ Christmases. We took legal action and were granted an injunction to prevent the strike going ahead at that time.

“The High Court has ruled subsequently that the changes to onboard crew numbers were valid and reasonable and did not breach crews’ contracts. They will save BA around £60 million a year, without affecting the earnings of existing crew, who remain the best rewarded in the UK industry.

“Nevertheless, a second ballot came out in favour of industrial action, though as yet Unite has not announced any strike dates.

“It must tell us by March 15 whether industrial action will happen and the latest date for industrial action to commence would be March 22.

“In the meantime we continue to have talks with Unite under the auspices of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and we want to resolve the issues between us.

“Whatever the outcome of those talks, I want to reassure you that in the event a strike goes ahead, it will not ground British Airways.

“We have had nearly 6,000 volunteers in total to support our flying programme. These include nearly 1,000 who have trained as cabin crew – and that number is growing.

“We will operate all our flights from London City airport, including long-haul services to New York.

“We will operate our entire long-haul schedule at Gatwick, and about half of our short-haul schedule.

“At Heathrow, we will operate a substantial proportion of our long-haul programme and a good number of short-haul flights too, assisted by chartered aircraft with crews from a number of UK and European-based airlines.

“We have also arranged to secure seats from other carriers, so thousands more customers can reach their chosen destinations.

“More than 4,000 of all cabin crew did not vote for strike action and at this stage our plans do not include crew at Heathrow who may choose to work normally.

“Although we are confident of our ability to mount this substantial operation, we are obviously not able to announce the precise schedule until we know for sure what Unite will do. What we can do, though, is ensure that our trade customers understand what options are available to them should strike action take place.

“At this stage customers whose flights are still showing as operating on proposed strike dates and who wish to change their travel plans will be able to rebook to the same destination, free of charge and subject to availability, on to other British Airways flights outside of the strike period for up to 355 days from the original date of travel.

“Refunds are available only if flights are cancelled or if the original booking conditions allow it.

“In the event that cancellations are made due to strike action, customers will be able to rebook on to another British Airways flight to the same destination within 355 days of the original date of travel; or rebook on to another British Airways flight to/from the nearest alternative airport (for example, if booked to/from Boston you could rebook to/from Philadelphia or New York); or get a refund. 

“We want to help the trade as much as we possibly can and we pledge to ensure you have the latest and most up-to-date information as soon as possible. We will also be regularly updating

“Let me finish by again sincerely thanking you for your support and asking you to remain with us during these difficult times. It means an enormous amount to us.”

Richard Tams, head of UK & Ireland sales and marketing, British Airways