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Travel

British Airways furloughs 36,000 staff in worst-ever crisis

Three months ago, British Airways and its staff were beginning what was expected to be their most successful-ever year.

Today BA, in common with the rest of the airline industry, is on life-support as scheduled flying reaches a near-standstill.

A combination of international flight bans, national lockdowns and passenger concerns about coronavirus have created the biggest crisis in modern aviation history. In response, British Airways is to suspend 36,000 employees.

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The move affects four out of five of BA’s ground staff, engineers, office workers and cabin crew. They will be switched to the government’s job-retention scheme, which covers 80 per cent of salary up to a maximum of £30,000 annually.

A deal with the Unite union is about to be concluded, with no redundancies involved at this stage. The official British Airways statement consists of just two words: “Talks continue.”

Cabin crew comprise the largest group of workers affected by the furlough, with 16,500 employed by BA. Part of their pay is made up of allowances from flying, so many will lose more than 20 per cent of their income.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) had previously negotiated a temporary pay cut and unpaid leave on behalf of BA’s 4,000 pilots. Their earnings, which are typically much more than £30,000 a year, will approximately halve.

Much of the British Airways fleet is grounded, and the airport bases at Gatwick and London City have shut down completely.

But unlike the UK’s other giant carrier, easyJet, BA is continuing to fly, with ​a skeleton service running to and from Heathrow airport.

On Thursday, short-haul flights are running to and from Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast, Berlin, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Geneva, Glasgow, Gothenburg, Manchester, Munich, Oslo, Sofia and Stockholm.

Top: Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Bottom: Charles Bridge, Prague

Grand Mosque, Mecca

2/20 Grand Mosque, Mecca

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

3/20 Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Nabi Younes market, Mosul

4/20 Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

5/20 Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

Charles Bridge, Prague

6/20 Charles Bridge, Prague

Taj Mahal hotel, India

7/20 Taj Mahal hotel, India

Dubai Mall, UAE

8/20 Dubai Mall, UAE

Beirut March, Lebanon

9/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Gateway of India, Mumbai

10/20 Gateway of India, Mumbai

Cairo University, Egypt

11/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Amman Citadel, Jordan

12/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

13/20 Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Beirut March, Lebanon

14/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Cairo, Egypt

15/20 Cairo, Egypt

Cairo University, Egypt

16/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Victoria Memorial, India

17/20 Victoria Memorial, India

Amman Citadel, Jordan

18/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Amman Citadel, Jordan

19/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Sidon, Lebanon

20/20 Sidon, Lebanon

1/20

Top: Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Bottom: Charles Bridge, Prague

Grand Mosque, Mecca

2/20 Grand Mosque, Mecca

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

3/20 Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Nabi Younes market, Mosul

4/20 Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

5/20 Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

Charles Bridge, Prague

6/20 Charles Bridge, Prague

Taj Mahal hotel, India

7/20 Taj Mahal hotel, India

Dubai Mall, UAE

8/20 Dubai Mall, UAE

Beirut March, Lebanon

9/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Gateway of India, Mumbai

10/20 Gateway of India, Mumbai

Cairo University, Egypt

11/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Amman Citadel, Jordan

12/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

13/20 Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Beirut March, Lebanon

14/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Cairo, Egypt

15/20 Cairo, Egypt

Cairo University, Egypt

16/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Victoria Memorial, India

17/20 Victoria Memorial, India

Amman Citadel, Jordan

18/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Amman Citadel, Jordan

19/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Sidon, Lebanon

20/20 Sidon, Lebanon

Intercontinental services are departing from Heathrow to Boston, Dallas, Hong Kong, Mexico City, New York, Santiago, Seattle, Seoul, Sydney, Tokyo and Washington DC.

The critical question for all airline staff is: how many of them will be needed when passengers start flying again in significant numbers?

Earlier, Greg Foran, chief executive of Air New Zealand, said: “We expect in a year’s time, we will be at least 30 percent smaller than we are today.”

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Travel

Peru rescue missions could still leave some UK travellers stranded amid coronavirus outbreak

Even though the government is spending more than £1m returning British travellers from Peru, some UK citizens say they are being left behind.

The Foreign Office has laid on a total of four flights from Lima to London, with additional connecting domestic flights from the tourist hubs of Arequipa and Cusco to the Peruvian capital.

They have been told: “On arrival in Lima you will remain on the aircraft until the UK charter is ready for boarding – you will not be allowed to disembark the aircraft.”

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But some British backpackers are under lockdown in a hostel in Cusco with 140 others after a guest tested positive for coronavirus. They have no way of reaching the buses that are supposed to take them to the airport. 

Sian Forkan, whose Twitter profile describes her as “Mancunian currently trying to get home from Peru”, tweeted: “We received an email to say we can get on the flight tomorrow, great news!

“BUT no reference on how we get out of Pariwana hostel which is currently on full lockdown, with the army on the door.”

Later she tweeted Kate Harrisson, the UK ambassador in Lima, saying: “It would be great if you could reach out personally to those UK nationals that are stuck in Pariwana Hostel with now no hope of getting on the repatriation flights.

“We were told 5 hours before we were due to leave after receiving the email today. Now told we’re here indefinitely.”

Buses were laid on overnight from the cities of Huaraz, Trujillo, La Libertad and Huanchaco to Lima for the flights, which are expected to depart late on Sunday. 

Ms Harrisson said on Saturday night: “We expect that the majority, though not all, seats on tomorrow’s flight to London will be taken up by passengers from Cusco. The two London flights on Monday will include passengers from Cusco, Arequipa and Lima.

“Ireland has also chartered a British Airways flight leaving Lima tomorrow and some British nationals – including some of those arriving to Lima by bus – will be boarding that additional flight.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The British embassy will continue to provide consular support to any British nationals who remain in Peru and require assistance. We are in close contact with travel operators and local authorities.”

The cost of the four international flights from Lima and three domestic charters is believed to total around £1.2m, with passengers expected to pay £250 per person once they return home.

Thousands of other UK citizens are stranded in other countries – with a large concentration in India, which has banned all flights.

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, is expected to announce additional repatriation flights early next week.

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Travel

Qatar Airways is increasing flights while other airlines stop flying amid coronavirus lockdown

“My son and his wife are stuck in Nicaragua. They believe the Costa Rica border is closed. Can you help/advise how they can get home to UK, please?”

Denise Hope’s appeal is typical of hundreds received by The Independent after the Foreign Office urged British travellers to return.

While some in Peru are being rescued by a series of repatriation flights between Lima and Heathrow, many other clusters of UK travellers are feeling helpless. 

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As flight bans multiply around the world and anxiety grows among British travellers stranded abroad, Qatar Airways has pledged to “clear the backlog” of people wanting to get home from Asia, Africa and Australasia.

An estimated 50,000 UK citizens in long-haul destinations are finding it difficult or impossible to follow the government’s travel advice to return home.

The UAE has suspended all flights, effectively grounding Emirates and Etihad – which would normally be flying more than 200,000 passengers a day between them.

In a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus, many other countries have imposed flight bans that are closing down options almost by the hour.

But Qatar has yet to close its airport, Doha, to flights – and has just announced a big expansion of flights to and from Australia, including a new link to Brisbane and three daily flights from Sydney.

Simon Talling-Smith, chief commercial officer of Qatar Airways, told The Independent that the airline is ramping up capacity as others close down their operations. 

“Having downsized our operation a little bit about a week ago, we’re now upscaling again: adding additional flights to some destinations, putting on bigger aircraft – for example our A380s are back in the sky now.

“We’ve made this our core mission right now, to get people home.

“More than three-quarters of our bookings at the moment are people who are returning home – either returning home from trips or they’ve been located in another country and they’ve been advised to or just wish to go to their home country. 

“I think that’s very human to want to be in your country at a time of crisis.”

There has been criticism of the UK government for failing to provide rescue flights for British travellers in far-flung parts of the world. The US has organised rescue flights from Latin America and Africa, while Lufthansa of Germany is operating a charter flight from Auckland to Frankfurt to bring nationals home.

Travellers’ chances of finding a commercial flight have been drastically reduced by key hubs such as Singapore shutting down to transit passengers. 

“Sometimes governments do put in place restrictions that mean we just simply cannot fly to a country,” said Mr Talling-Smith. “But where we are able to fly, we will fly.”

Some travellers have accused Qatar Airways of profiteering from the coronavirus crisis. One-way flights from Sydney to London Heathrow on Saturday 28 March are available, but only in first-class – priced at £6,200. 

Mr Talling-Smith said: “We have got some flights that are very full and I don’t think it’s any different from normal life: when you’re trying to buy a ticket on a plane that departs tomorrow and it’s almost completely full, then the last few tickets are going to be sold at the top of the range of prices. 

“Equally we have other flights in future days and weeks that are not full at all – a lot of this traffic is very directional. And there are low prices available as well. 

“It is a mix but inevitably last-minute, full aircraft do tend to drive higher prices.”

Many other airlines are continuing to fly where they can, albeit with reduced frequencies and with very different inflight service.

British Airways, which is one-quarter owned by Qatar Airways, is flying almost empty to many destinations to bring back passengers who are due to come home.

But BA’s planes have fewer cabin crew than usual, with a basic meal service served with disposable cutlery and crockery in all cabins.

No alcohol is being served, and no dietary meal options are available – with passengers encouraged to bring their own food on board.

Simon Talling-Smith, himself a former British Airways executive, said: “I’ve been through 20 years of these crises. For me it’s like all of the other crises rolled into one: a bit of 9/11, a bit of financial crisis with a sprinkling of volcano. There’s been nothing like it.

“I think there will be a substantial demand for people returning home for weeks to come. We’re doing everything we possibly can.”

Meanwhile, The Independent has advised Denise Hope that her son should contact the UK Embassy in Managua to try to obtain documentation for them to reach San Jose and fly out on one of the Iberia rescue flights to Madrid.

Alternatively they could see what rescue flights are being organised to the US – though they must have correct documentation in place to transit through America.

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