British Airways' chief executive, Willie Walsh, has insisted he will not be resigning, as he warned passengers using Heathrow's Terminal 5 that they faced more travel misery this weekend.
Despite another day of cancelled flights yesterday after hundreds of travellers were forced to spend the night at the airport, Mr Walsh pleaded for more time to allow his staff to adapt to the "quirks" of the new system.
Reports last night suggested that BA faced fines of up to £5,000 for breaking European rules by misleading stranded passengers over their compensation rights.
Twenty per cent of flights due out of the £4.3bn terminal were axed yesterday, to help the airline cope with the backlog from the opening day's baggage handling meltdown, staff confusion and lack of parking. Last night BA said an additional 54 flights would be cancelled today.
Business leaders and politicians attacked BA and the Heathrow operator BAA, while BA's share price fell 3 per cent.
Gwyneth Dunwoody, the Labour chairman of the Commons Transport Select Committee, announced an inquiry into this week's events with the power to summon the heads of BA and BAA to answer questions. "It was a disaster," she said. "We need to find out what went wrong and make sure it is put right."
The Tory leader David Cam-eron said the debacle threatened to undermine the case for further expansion at the airport where BAA is pressing the case for a third runway, with the Government's apparent backing, despite public opposition. "The scenes were completely dreadful. You feel for anyone who was there," he said.
David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "It is yet another depressing chapter for the UK's crumbling transport system."
Though BA spent much of Thursday insisting nothing was seriously awry, Mr Walsh owned up: "Yesterday was not British Airways' finest hour. I apologise sincerely. The buck stops with me. Our performance was not good enough." He added that a planned move of more of BA's Heathrow operations to T5 in late April was "under review".
The airline has asked anyone flying from Heathrow with it this weekend to rebook. Those booked on cancelled flights were offered refunds or urged to use alternative routes.