Virgin Atlantic pilots poised to ground airline over holiday row

VIRGIN Atlantic management are to meet with union Balpa today in a bid to avert a possible strike of its airline’s pilots as tensions mount over staff holidays and days off.

The two are to meet in what Balpa calls “last ditch” talks to negotiate an agreement that could prevent a crippling strike by Virgin Atlantic’s pilots.

If the talks fail, pilots could be balloted as early as this week to decide whether or not to launch industrial action and cause further chaos to air passengers.

Balpa, which represents over 75 per cent of airline and helicopter pilots in the UK, said the dispute is over the number of days pilots are allowed to take off in addition to holiday privilege.

Virgin pilots have been angered by changes to a system which guarantees them 120 days off a year, on top of holiday, in return for routinely working weekends and bank holidays.

General secretary at the union Jim McAuslan said: “Balpa always does what it can to assist airlines through downturns, as many airlines will testify, and we did this with Virgin during these past difficult years.”

McAuslan added: “To now find that the company is breaching an agreement and denying many pilots their entitlement to the equivalent of a weekend off is a real slap in the face and one which we cannot accept.”

Virgin Atlantic, which is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, said that today’s meeting with its pilots is routine.

A statement from the airline said: “We have not had any notification of a ballot. We have a routine, monthly meeting with our pilots and we will be discussing any issues that arise in that forum.”

Should hundreds of Virgin Atlantic pilots strike, it will serve as an added headache to air passengers, who have already grappled with a handful of recent travel disruptions, including the lengthy British Airways cabin crew strikes and the closure of UK and European airspace due to the Iceland volcano.