A Strike, A flight and a Hit Squad

I am due to fly out with British Airways on the overnight flight of Monday, March 29 from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv. Cabin crews of British Airways went on strike for four days last week and another four days starting this weekend including March 29. There has been something of a public relations war going on between British Airways management and the boss of British Airways and Unite, the union for the cabin crew, including pilots and flight attendants.

I rarely fly British Airways. There has been a long history of industrial disputes. For years, British Airways promoted itself as the “world’s favourite airline” – on the bizarre basis that it flew to more destinations than other airlines. The public in Britain do not consider British Airways the most popular airline in this country; let alone the views of passengers around the world.

British Airways posted in May 2009, its biggest ever loss of £410 million in a year. The company  is now determined to claw back this money by imposing significant contractual changes on the cabin crew employees, and introduce a second tier workforce on poorer pay and conditions. Unite members had offered cuts to the tune of around £100 million to support BA.

Why should the cabin crew have to pay the full price for the financial mismanagement of the board of directors of British Airways? Much of the media, television, radio and newspapers lean towards supporting British Airways. The corporate world has a highly effective public relations team while our political leaders support the company and condemn the union because of the inconvenience to passengers. After all, there is a general election here in May and Unite members live all over the country.

British Airways remain determined to extend working hours of the crew, reduce cabin crew numbers, bring in lower paid crew and take away certain benefits. It is hardly surprising that the cabin crew have gone on strike.

I had to keep an eye of developments to find out whether British Airways (BA – sometimes referred to as Bloody Awful) to find out whether my flight would leave next Monday. The London –  Tel Aviv flights were cancelled for the first strike last week. I contact Mike Cole, my travel agent in Exeter, for the past 20 years for advice. One of the values of a local travel agent is the personal communication over the years. I remember years ago, I rang him. He said: “Aren’t you supposed to be on a flight this morning?”

“Oh shit,”  I replied. I got the dates of a trip to Germany and a trip to Brighton the wrong way around. I had missed the flight. He quickly arranged a cheap flight later that day. On another occasion, I had forgotten to book the flight and he found a seat for me, so I could get away on time to teach. Mike put my mobile phone number and email address into the BA system so I would know immediately whether my flight to Tel Aviv would take place, and put me on an alternative flight as a back up.

I received an email today that British Airways will fly to Tel Aviv next Monday although British Airways have cancelled numerous flights out of London Heathrow due to the strike. I had wondered whether UK diplomats, investigators and teams from the Home Office are flying with British Airways to and from Tel Aviv hence the flight. We read this week that the Israeli government ordered an assassination of a senior member of Hamas in the Middle East. To get into Dubai, the hit squad  used forged UK passports. They drugged and smothered the Hamas military commander in his hotel room. In retaliation, the British Government gave the Israeli government the mildest slap on the wrists by ordering an Israeli diplomat to return home. Various organisations plan to prosecute the Israeli government in British courts. No doubt, there will be a  flurry of diplomatic activity between London and Tel Aviv until the protests dies down.

The British Foreign Office has issued travel advice for those of us flying to Israel to be aware of the risk of Mossad, the Israel secret services, stealing or cloning our passports. Dubai police identified some 18 forged passports used by the murderers. Other members of the hit squad travelled on fake Irish, French and Australian travel documents, Interpol has published a wanted list of 27 people in connection with the killing. Many of the passport photos of the assassins appeared on the front pages of British newspapers this week. The Israeli government and military totally reject international law – although other democracies only observe international law when it suits them. So, it is unlikely the British police or Interpol will make any arrests although it would be easy to identify the killers.

Meanwhile, I have a very full programme of Dharma teaching in Israel  daily for three weeks. For the first time, I will be conducting two retreats simultaneously. Fortunately, the two Dharma halls are metres from each other. We have a fine team of Dharma teachers in Israel, a wonderful team of organisers in Tovana and very committed sangha.

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