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Travel misery for thousands as British Airways talks collapse

Air and rail passengers face three days of travel misery after moves to prevent a British Airways cabin crew strike collapsed and signal workers voted to take industrial action over jobs.

Thousands of BA staff will strike hitting flights mainly at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in a bitter row over cost cutting, with a four-day stoppage planned from March 27 and further action expected from mid-April unless the deadlock is broken.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) raised the threat of Easter railway strikes after its signal members at Network Rail voted in favour of walkouts, although the union later agreed to hold peace talks next week.

Slim hopes of a last-minute deal to head off the BA strikes were shattered when three days of talks between chief executive Willie Walsh and Unite's joint leader Tony Woodley suddenly ended in acrimony.

Mr Woodley said he was “extremely disappointed” that the talks at the TUC headquarters in London had failed and accused BA of wanting a “war” with the union.

He said BA had tabled a worse offer than one withdrawn last week.

Mr Walsh left the TUC a few minutes after Mr Woodley, describing the industrial action as “completely unjustified”.

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He said: “It is deeply regrettable that a proposal I have tabled to Unite, which I believe is fair and sensible and addresses all the concerns of cabin crew, has not been accepted.”

Mr Walsh agreed that the new deal tabled in the current round of talks was not the same as the one withdrawn last week, arguing that BA had incurred “significant” extra expense because of the cost of its contingency plans and the number of passengers who have cancelled flights.

Mr Walsh said BA would now put in place its “extensive” contingency plans, which include the use of 23 fully crewed planes leased from other companies. BA said it was confident of handling as many as 49,000 passengers on each of the first two planned strike days, which compares with a figure of around 75,000 for a normal weekend day in March.

The airline plans to run 50% of its short-haul Gatwick services, about 60% of its Heathrow long-haul services and about 30% of its Heathrow short-haul flights.

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