Air travellers in the Gulf may face a summer of disrupted flights if pilots at British long-haul carrier Virgin Atlantic follow through on a decision to strike over an ongoing pay dispute.
About 97 percent of pilots at’s airline voted in favour of strike action on Tuesday in response to pay freezes, the British Airlines Pilots Association (Balpa) said.
Any walkout is likely to hit long-haul routes during the airline’s peak summer season, potentially disrupting thousands of passengers, but Virgin said it would attempt to minimise any impact.
“We are naturally disappointed with the result of the ballot but remain committed to further talks with our pilots’ representatives to find a solution,” the second-biggest long-haul carrier at London’s Heathrow airport, said in a statement.
The airline has “contingency plans in place to prepare for any industrial action and will take every step possible to minimise the impact on our customers.”
Virgin Atlantic pilots, who haven’t had a salary increase since 2008, have rejected the airline’s offer of a pay rise of four percent this year and by three percent next year and in 2013.
The airline froze salaries in 2008 order to cut costs and help it survive a slump in demand for air travel in the wake of the global recession.
Balpa, which represents about 85 percent of Virgin Atlantic’s 750 pilots, said it hadn’t yet set any firm strike dates yet but was hoping Branson would intervene to prevent a walkout.
“The size of the poll and the huge majority for action should send a clear message to Sir Richard Branson,” Balpa General Secretary Jim McAuslan said in the statement. “Pilots are prepared to strike. We have absolute resolve to secure a fair settlement.”
The news has raised the spectre of last summer’s strike action by British Airways crew, which led to the cancellation of scheduled flights on the carrier’s Middle Eastern routes, including Dubai, Doha and Bahrain.
The walkout was estimated to have cost the British carrier about £150m ($242.4m), not only as a direct result of the strikes, but also as passengers switched away to rival airlines.
Virgin Atlantic had a net loss of £125.2m in the 12 months ended February 28, 2010, the most recent period for which figures are available, versus a £36m profit a year earlier.
Balpa is required to give the carrier seven days notice before it carries out any industrial action. Virgin Atlantic currently operates a daily service to Dubai.