24Hr emergency line +44 (0)20 8476 4099
Join Balpa

When you need help – send for a pilot

by Capt Dave Fielding BALPA Rep

Ours is a complex and stressful job. It sounds like stating the obvious, but when you put those stresses alongside the trials and tribulations of everyday life then it can make for a difficult mixture. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to tip that precarious work-life balance the wrong way. Over the years of my work as a disciplinary and welfare representative, I can attest how easily changing circumstance in life or an unanticipated incident can send a pilot’s life into a dramatic slide.

At times like these you need a friendly and experienced ear to listen to you and to help. And that is what I and my colleagues across the company councils in BALPA do year round and do it well. In my mind, this is one of the principal reasons you pay your subs. I can give you numerous examples of pilots who have decided that they don’t need BALPA but have triggered a disciplinary and been suspended. They have discovered that it is a very dark and lonely place without us.

Being a union that represents those working in aviation, BALPA’s knowledge and expertise in the industry is to be expected. However, it’s our willingness to support pilots with unexpected matters which may not necessarily be work-related that make us stand out. To reinforce the reasons why you should be a part of BALPA as detailed in a previous blog post, this is what members themselves said when BALPA helped them in their time of need.

*John, long haul captain, BALPA member for 25 years

“My story started after some allegations were made against me. I’d never had any experience of this sort of thing and the only people to turn to were BALPA. I reached out and watched in awe whilst the BALPA machine rolled into action. There are fine minds within our rep community and I was fortunate enough to be represented by some of them during the subsequent investigation. Their knowledge of my company’s disciplinary process was intimate and their experience of this sort of case was huge. Combine all of these things and you have an impressive team in your corner. After a protracted investigation, I was delighted to be cleared of all allegations.

“So, that’s that then. Easy enough. Job done. Actually, no it’s not. There’s more to it than just the facts – there’s the emotional side too. These are the bits that you might not expect but there is plenty of help available here, too. This ranges from counselling for you and your family, handy coping hints and a friendly voice on the end of the phone, all absolutely invaluable when you’re in a dark place.

“So, would I ever leave BALPA? Never! Indeed, they will always have my gratitude for helping me keep my job, career and reputation.”

As mentioned by John, our family counselling services and 24/7 support are vital when it comes to helping you get back on track both mentally and physically. When it comes to round-the-clock support, our emergency line 020 8476 4099 has proved really effective in helping you in that crucial moment of need. We have many resources available to us, and depending on the incident, will use as many or as little as we need. Very often, a pilot who has an incident in flight will turn on their phone after landing and find a text from BALPA offering support and a number to call. We have a team of reps who can be mobilised at very short notice, backed up by support from BALPA staff who can mobilise international assistance if required. I find it a hugely comforting thought that it doesn’t matter where I operate in the world, if I did get into difficulties then BALPA can arrange assistance through IFALPA within hours.

Examples of recent calls to the BALPA emergency line include runway excursion, family members looking for guidance after an accident, and diversions following fumes events. The key point is that whatever the situation, if you need assistance urgently, then it is an emergency and you should call the emergency line as soon as possible.

*Jeremy, short haul captain. BALPA member for 15 years

“I remember my initial call to the BALPA Emergency Line well – I’d put the number in my phone just in case and I’m glad I did. While it is very difficult to mitigate some events, BALPA has a team of experts drawn from the pilot community and beyond who can provide you with the professional and personal support you will need as your world falls apart. If the worst happens, as it did with me, BALPA continues to provide outstanding support while everyone else scatters. Help such as information and coaching to regain employment, as well as assistance in specialist areas such as medical and licensing really makes a massive difference when it seems all is lost.

“I remain incredibly grateful to the individual rep concerned in my aftercare who continues to go way beyond the call of duty. I can remember when I used to grumble about RPI pay rises, but it’s only now that I realise what an amazing organisation BALPA really is and what a difference it can make when you are faced with the unthinkable. Without the support I’ve received I doubt that I would be back flying again today. I sincerely hope you never have to go through an ordeal like mine, but if you do you’ll be glad you’re a BALPA member.”

Things aren’t always going to go as planned – that’s a given. But, what remains important to us at BALPA is helping you through your issue and finding a solution wherever possible. From employment information and coaching like Jeremy benefited from, to legal help or medical assistance, you can always be certain that BALPA will help you through the process.

Alongside our team of flight safety specialists, Company Council reps such as myself remain at the forefront of our duties for members. I like to think that our enthusiasm, perseverance and tenacity in supporting and representing our fellow pilots makes us a fundamental part of operations at BALPA. We are even willing to fly half way across the world if you need our help!

*Richard, long haul co-pilot. BALPA member for 8 years

“I had a health issue which, once treated, just needed the odd wash and brush up. I was open with my employer about my condition. After a negative reaction from me during a poor intervention by a manager, I collapsed during the subsequent disciplinary whilst awaiting ‘crucifixion’. A Company Council rep flew half way around the world, picked me up, returned to LHR on the same aircraft and then drove me to hospital for a little rest and recuperation. I, along with my family, was supported and guided through the internal and external processes, not only consuming huge amounts of time as you can become quite needy as your world falls apart but also consuming huge amounts of cash for legal bills (which I could never have paid). I was struck through the process that BALPA were always measured and not looking for the fight, just to solve the problem. You find you do not agree with every decision and tactic but that is hardly a surprise, the BALPA Legal Services Sub-Committee is accountable.

“We won but I was never to fly again for the company, therein followed a tortuous process in an attempt to justify this decision but it became clear I was in a no-win situation. Again, very expensive advice was sought at every step but in the end I decided to continue my life elsewhere. Again the union stepped up to the plate. In truth, I do not really have to work again with what was negotiated but the temptations of the pub at my tender years would prove too much; I am now driving airplanes again in pastures new. I am clear; I would not have made it through three years of hell without BALPA.”

So, if you are ever left questioning what it is exactly that BALPA do for you, don’t forget the hard work our team do to ensure you, as a pilot, are happy, well-represented, and most importantly, safe. Whether it’s flight safety advice, legal, financial or medical assistance, personal support, disciplinary or employment matters, it is worth remembering that you can always count on BALPA.

*name has been changed to protect identity