LONDON – Virgin Atlantic pilots in the Professional Pilots Union (PPU) have balloted for strike action. Up to 400 out of the 965 pilots will be striking over the airline’s refusal to include them in talks over pay and benefits changes.

The PPU has confirmed that it is currently in talks with ACAS, a UK arbitration service aimed at trying to bring Virgin Atlantic to the table to hear the views of the union.

Steve Johnson, spokesperson for the PPU, said that Virgin Atlantic’s management “exposes the ridiculous position… in this dispute” and that the carrier is willing to spend money mitigating the actions of the union rather than preventing passenger disruption.

The weekend has seen the union come together to discuss states for strike action, figuring out which dates will be the most effective for the most disruption.

The PPU will plan up to three lots of four-day strikes to take place over the Christmas and New Year holiday—that is from December 22 to 25, from December 30 to January 2, as well as from January 4 to 7.

The union also added that further strikes could take place between those periods and as far as May 2019 if need be.

The PPU was formed in 2011 following a dispute with Virgin Atlantic where pilots felt poorly represented by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) over the issue of working conditions.

Around 400 out of 965 pilots currently flying for Virgin Atlantic are aligned with the views of the PPU and its membership. The other 565 are either non-unionized or are with BALPA.

The PPU argue for recognition because BALPA is the only union being included in the airline’s benefits review, despite the PPU having a larger number of Virgin Atlantic pilots as members.

The union also believes that working conditions need to be improved, especially as getting an Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL) can take around 18 months to complete and requires at least GBP £60,000-90,000 of personal funding.

Back in November 2017, the PPU sent out an open letter to Virgin Atlantic stating that they would be “prepared to explore options that could respect the choice that VAA has now made” in return for union recognition.

The open letter also argued that Virgin Atlantic is misrepresenting the PPU’s aims regarding the requirement for it to derecognize BALPA even though the PPU doesn’t want it to happen.

“There appears to be much misunderstanding, and therefore continued misrepresentation, of the position of the PPU, regarding the VAA requirement for it not to derecognize BALPA,” it said.

The letter continued by saying that “it is unacceptable to have a single, preferred solution imposed on us,” referring to the fact that, as an independent and certified trade union, they need to be more involved in the decision-making process of workers in the company.

The rest of the letter produces that same view throughout, even with the indirect usage of strike ballots, in which is going to happen over the next few days/weeks.

Virgin has stated that there will be no disruption to flights, but the PPU beg to differ. As a third of the pilots are set to strike, it does beg the question about disruption and how heavy it will be.

Unless the carrier contracts pilots out to cover the strikes, then that is the only way we can see the prevention of disruption.

It will be interesting to see what happens during the strike process and whether Virgin will sit down with the PPU and discuss demands and solutions.