Defiant BA flies on despite chaos

BRITISH Airways flew 49,000 customers yesterday despite a strike action by cabin crew. The airline said yesterday that 55 per cent of Heathrow based cabin crew turned up to work, and 97 per cent showed up at Gatwick.

Originally the airline thought it would fly 45,000 passengers, or 60 per cent, on each day of the strike. The strike enters its third day today.

BA also reinstated eight long haul and 18 short haul flights from Heathrow and Gatwick, marking a higher number than the airline had originally expected.

A spokesperson from BA said the airline had to turn down a small number of volunteer staff after a higher number than expected showed up to work.

Chief executive Willie Walsh said: “We promised to keep BA flying and that’s exactly what we’ve done and delivered. So many people at British Airways want to keep the flag flying.”

The news comes despite claims from trade union Unite, which is representing the striking crew, that BA managed to fly only one-third of intended flights on Saturday and that Terminal 5, BA’s flagship terminal, was a “ghost town”.

A statement on Unite’s website said that by lunchtime yesterday, 85 BA planes were parked at Heathrow and a further 20 were parked at Cardiff airport to sit out the strike.
But Walsh disputed the claims and said the planes were parked in Cardiff in the airline’s maintenance facilities.

Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley appealed to BA board members to “take matters into hand and restart negotiations” yesterday. He said: “We have said all along that negotiations, not litigation, intimidation nor confrontation, is the way forward.” He warned, however, that capitulation was not on the menu.

The dispute between BA and Unite is fuelling fears that Britain is about to be plunged into a new Winter of Discontent ahead of the general election. Talks aimed at averting Easter strikes by railway signal workers will be held this week between Network Rail and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. The growing strike action is likely to hit Labour, which remains reliant on union funding.

Woodley has pledged to join BA crew on the picket line today, the last of the three-day strike action. It is unclear whether negotiations will resume between the two parties.

Should BA and Unite fail to come to any agreement this week, an Easter strike action is planned for 27 March, which will last for four days to cause maximum disruption.