Pilots at leisure airline Thomas Cook have gone on strike in a dispute over pay, in what unions say is the first strike by UK pilots since the 1970s.
Members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) walked out at 3 o’clock on Friday morning.
Thomas Cook failed to obtain an injunction preventing the action but said flights were operating during the walk out.
Balpa said it had taken the action “extremely reluctantly”.
‘Enough is enough’
Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “Thomas Cook pilots have faced year-on-year, real-terms pay cuts, and cuts to terms and conditions, and our pilots have said ‘enough is enough’.
“We have, however, kept this action to a minimum – just 12 hours. Thomas Cook have stated that all of its flights will operate – we hope that this is true, as Thomas Cook’s customers are not to blame for this action.”
The company said Thomas Cook pilots, who were not in the union, had ensured the strike did not have an impact on flights or inconvenience customers.
Mr Strutton said Thomas Cook offered a 1.5% pay rise which was changed to 4% over two years during talks at the conciliation service.
The union is seeking a one-year deal “substantially” in excess of the Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation rate. The RPI rate stood at 3.6% in July.
Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser said any pay rise had to be “reasonable and affordable” because the company was competing with low cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet.
He said costs were going up because they had to pay for aircraft fuel in dollars and many air traffic control costs in euros, but the pound had fallen in value.
Mr Fankhauser said Balpa had asked for an annual pay rise of more than 10%.
“Obviously we work in an extremely tough environment. We have offered basically 4% over 2 years on top of normal annual pay increases of 1.8%.
“We have an offer which is clearly above inflation. We have moved three times.
“Balpa has not moved at all, so we really ask Balpa to come back to the table to negotiate with us.”
The union said it remained committed to finding a solution to the dispute, which it said meant Thomas Cook putting forward a pay offer its pilots could accept.
As well as the strike, Thomas Cook is also having to take precautionary measures to help customers who could be affected by Hurricane Irma.
The category five hurricane has pummelled the Turks and Caicos Islands after leaving a trail of destruction across the Caribbean, killing at least 14 people.
About half a million people have been told to leave south Florida where Irma is due to arrive on Sunday.
Thomas Cook said it had 5,780 customers in Orlando, 1,500 in the Dominican Republic and 4,800 in Cuba.
It said 1,738 of its customers that were in Cayos, a string of islands lying off Cuba’s north-eastern coastline, had been moved to a mainland beach resort and Havana.
The authorities issued evacuation orders on Thursday because the hurricane is expected to pass between Cuba and the Bahamas.
Thomas Cook has also sent out 18 members of its special assistant teams to Cuba and the Dominican Republic in case they are required to support customers during the hurricane.