Is British Airways Cutting Things A Little Close With One Of Its Routes?

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I’ve only recently moved over to the British Airways Executive Club from American Airlines but I’ve been flying one or two British Airways short-haul routes for more years that I care to remember and, on one of these routes, I’ve just realised that passengers may be at a greater risk of finding themselves stranded overnight than they realise.

The route in question is BA’s London Heathrow to Larnaca (Cyprus) route which I travel on with reasonable frequency to visit friends who have a home on the island.

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Up until November 2018 British Airways operated between 1 and 2 flights per day between Heathrow and Larnaca and the later of the two flights (when there were two flights) was always operated by a Boeing 767. The earlier flight was operated by a smaller Airbus A320.

On days when only one flight was scheduled it was the 767 that operated the route on its usual schedule.

This is the winter schedule for that flight.

BA662 LHR 11:45 – 18:25 LCA
BA663 LCA 19:15 – 22:10 LHR

During the days of the 767 the crews that operated the Heathrow – Larnaca route came from BA’s “Eurofleet” and, as part of the benefits package that comes with being a Eurofleet employee, the crews that operated the flight would be put up in a Cyprus hotel overnight (the Hilton Park Nicosia in case you’re interested).

As one crew that landed at 18:25 made its way to the hotel, another crew (one which had arrived at 18:25 the previous day and had stayed at the Hilton overnight) would take over – BA always had a “fresh” crew on the ground in Cyprus.

a swimming pool in front of a hotel
Hilton Park Nicosia – Image courtesy of Hilton

Not any more.

Now that BA has sent its last 767 to the boneyard all the crews that operate the flights between Heathrow and Larnaca come from the airline’s “Mixed Fleet” and these crews are given fewer benefits than their colleagues in Eurofleet.

Specifically, these crews no longer get to overnight in Cyprus.

The pilots and flight attendants who operate the 11:45 flight to Larnaca now also operate the 19:15 flight back to London Heathrow on the same day.

Here’s where I think there may be a problem.

British Airways crews are restricted (by regulations) to a flight duty period of 12 hours and that duty period begins when they arrive at the airport to begin their pre-flight duties and ends when the pilot sets the park break at the final airport stop.

Now for the math….

According to the crew I spoke to on my last flight they begin their duty period at 10:30am if they’re working the 11:45 flight to Larnaca so this is what their duty day looks like:

  • 1 hour and 15 minutes of duty between arriving at Heathrow and scheduled departure time
  • Between 4 hours 15 minutes and 4 hours 30 minutes of duty as the aircraft flys out to Cyprus (standard flying times)
  • A scheduled 50 minutes on the ground in Cyprus
  • Between 4 hours 30 minutes and 5 hours of duty as the aircraft flys back to Heathrow (standard flying times)

That comes to a total of at least 10 hours 50 minutes of duty or, potentially, 11 hours 20 minutes of duty if the conditions on the flight back to London are unfavorable.

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30% of the last 10 BA663 flights have been over 5 hours long or within 6 minutes of 5 hours

Is it just me or is that not leaving very much scope in the event that the day doesn’t go quite as planned (e.g.the French go on strike)?

If there’s a delay in London (which is certainly not unheard of) it would be very easy for the crew to arrive in Cyprus and, unless things go smoothly there, not have enough hours left to operate the flight back to London….and there’s no fresh crew in Cyprus to take over any more.

I’m sure British Airways would point to the fact that the Captain of the aircraft has the authority to exercise ‘discretion’ and extend the maximum duty period by up to 3 hours (after consulting with the rest of the crew to check on tiredness levels) and so “save the day” in the case of an extended delay….but that’s not really the point here.

Firstly, do you really want to have your flight operated by a crew that, technically, shouldn’t really be up in the air but is up in the air thanks to “pilot’s discretion”?

Secondly, even a three hour extension won’t be enough in some cases because of how close to the maximum allowable duty time these crews are already running.

It would only take one bad delay at Heathrow (we’ve all seen them!) to put the return flight in jeopardy…and then what happens?

Does BA send the flight out knowing there’s a good chance the crew won’t be legal to return? Does the airline cancel the flight altogether? Either way there will be a lot of inconvenienced passengers.

Bottom Line

I don’t actually know the answer to the questions I’ve just posed (if anyone does please let me know in the comments) but I do know I’m not exactly overjoyed at the thought of BA cutting things this fine with their crews’ hours…..and it has me wondering if there are any other routes where airlines are cutting things this close.

I feel genuinely sorry for the crews on the Heathrow – Larnaca flight because they’re actually some of the best crews I get to fly with and they seem to be being pushed to the limit by their employer.

Am I missing something here? Is my math wrong? Or do we really now have a British Airways short-haul route where there’s every chance that one bad delay will result in the cancellation of at least one of the two flights?