Passengers to face chaos after BA cabin crew vote for strikes
Thousands of British Airways passengers were last night facing disruption because of seven days of strikes by cabin crew in an increasingly bitter row over cost-cutting.
The dispute intensified after Unite announced that thousands of its members will walk out for three days from March 20 and for four days from March 27 following the collapse of talks aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over jobs, pay and working conditions.
The union revealed plans to ballot its 12,000 cabin crew members on an offer from BA but any hopes of a last-ditch reprieve for travellers were scuppered when the airline said the offer was no longer on the table.
BA's chief executive Willie Walsh accused the union of trying to “break” the company and said his focus now was on keeping the airline flying during the strikes.
BA temporarily stopped selling seats on flights operating on the strike days, adding that until it revised its flying schedule next week, all passengers who have booked to travel between March 19 and 31 will have the choice of rebooking, cancelling or obtaining a refund.
Unite urged BA to “see sense” and put its offer back on the table, saying the airline's decision to withdraw it “beggared belief”.
BA has drawn up contingency plans to deal with the strikes with up to 1,000 volunteer staff ready to work as cabin crew — including hundreds of pilots.
Flights from London's City Airport, including long-haul services to New York, will operate normally, while 70% of cabin crew will work at Gatwick, meaning all long-haul and 50% of short-haul flights will be unaffected, BA said.
No specific details were given about flights from Heathrow, but Mr Walsh said a “substantial” number of long and short-haul services would still operate.
Mr Walsh revealed that Unite had asked for a three-week extension to the legal process to delay strikes being called, saying he had agreed to the request.
He said: “That is not what they have done. The offer we made last Wednesday is no longer available. We are moving on.”
Len McCluskey, Unite's assistant general secretary, said BA had turned down a “remarkable” offer from the union which he maintained would have given the airline everything it wanted.