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Updated: May 20, 2010 16:47 IST

British Airways passengers face disruptions

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British union Unite joint leader Tony Woodley, addresses striking British Airways cabin crew near Heathrow Airport in London. File photo: AP.
British union Unite joint leader Tony Woodley, addresses striking British Airways cabin crew near Heathrow Airport in London. File photo: AP.

British Airways workers took to the picket lines on Saturday for a second round of strikes against the struggling airline, causing widespread disruption and frustration among passengers.

Union officials say 12,000 members are taking part in the four-day strike, which comes only a week after another walkout touched off travel chaos.

BA has been taking a hard line against strikers, and has promised to fly more than three quarters of booked passengers. But its Heathrow services will be severely depleted - down to 55 percent for short haul and 70 percent for long haul - as the dispute over pay and changes to working conditions trudges on.

“This is the second part of the biggest contingency plan we have ever launched and our aim will continue to be to fly as many customers as we can,” the airline said in a statement.

Both the airline and the union say they are willing to return to negotiations, but there is little sign of reconciliation from either side.

A first round of strikes last week cost the airline about 21 million pounds ($31 million).

Chief Executive Willie Walsh outraged union members by withdrawing valuable travel perks from workers who walked off the job, arguing they were not part of their contracts. The union, Unite, says any deal must restore those privileges.

News of a report commissioned by BA that advised airline bosses to hit the union’s leadership “where it hurts,” will add further pressure to the tense situation.

The report, leaked to The Guardian, urged BA three years ago to confront the Unite union’s flight attendant arm, Bassa. Written by Frank Burchill, a visiting professor at Strathclyde University, the report says BA should recognize “there is no prospect of ... partnership” under the union’s current leadership. It advises hitting union leaders “where it hurts.” by reducing time off for union duties, which would hit their earnings since they are paid for such work.

BA shot back by saying the document was merely three-year-old advice - not a policy statement.

“The document excerpt leaked to The Guardian does not express the views of British Airways or any individual employee from the airline,” the airline said in a statement.

The airline notified passengers five days ago about the strike action, but that offered little consolation to exasperated passengers at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. They included John Cawley, 54, from Liverpool, who swore he’d never fly BA again.

Cawley, his wife and two sons were due to fly to New Jersey before going on a cruise - but their internal flight between Manchester and Heathrow was cancelled. The family needed to hire a van to drive them to London - a journey that cost 350 pounds ($520).

“It seems there are no certainties with BA at all,” he said. “We’re having to take this trip one step at a time, once one bit is over we start to worry about the next one. There are question marks over everything.”


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