Fresh BA cabin crew strike takes off
Thousands of air travellers faced renewed disruption on Monday as British Airways cabin crew began a five-day strike, grounding many flights to and from its main London hub.
BA said its services were "off to a good start" despite the latest walk-out in the long-running and increasingly hostile dispute between the airline and Unite, Britain's biggest trade union.
The strike, which began at midnight (2300 GMT Sunday), affects BA's hub operations at London Heathrow, the world's busiest international passenger airport. BA flights from Gatwick and London City airports were not disrupted.
Flights to and from Glasgow, Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan and Munich were among those most affected in a reduced timetable. Three of nine scheduled flights to New York were cancelled.
While BA and Unite have reached broad agreement on pay, the spat is now focused on the heavily discounted flights available to off-duty cabin crew -- key perks which have been taken away from striking workers.
"Our operations around the world have got off to a good start," BA said in a statement.
"The numbers of cabin crew reporting at Heathrow are currently at the levels we need to operate our published schedule.
"At Heathrow, our aim is to fly as many customers as we can during the strike period and we will be operating more than 60 percent of our long-haul programme and more than 50 percent of our short-haul flights.
"We will fly more than 60,000 booked customers around the world every day between May 24 and May 28, despite these five days being targeted for strikes.
"We continue to be available for talks with Unite."
BA said they had leased up to eight staffed aircraft from other British or European airlines.
Discussions broke down Saturday after dozens of socialist protestors stormed the talks venue.
BA chief executive Willie Walsh has faced accusations that he is trying to break the unions at the airline. Unite accuses the flag carrier of imposing changes on cabin crew and refusing to negotiate openly and fairly.
Walsh insists that the airline is struggling for its very existence.
The on-running dispute soured further Monday as Tony Woodley, Unite's joint leader, accused Walsh of wanting "regime change" in the union's cabin crew branch.
Striking workers rallied near Heathrow in west London, waving flags from an open-top bus.
One 42-year-old cabin crew member from south London said: "It's personal now."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: "I was happy that we were allowed to strike, but I'm devastated that we have to.
"We want to keep BA as a premium airline.... We don't want this to be a race to the bottom."
After touring picket lines, Woodley and co-leader Derek Simpson were to address the strikers later Monday.
Britain's Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the strike would not resolve the outstanding issues and urged a resumption of talks.
"The jobs of all BA staff depend on the airline's future competitiveness and the loyalty of all its customers and, in order to protect both, I now urge BA cabin crew to keep flying and keep talking," he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said the new premier "wants to see as little disruption to passengers as possible.
"The best way to achieve this is for the two parties to resolve the situation as soon as possible," he told reporters.
The new strike comes after BA posted a record annual pre-tax loss of 531 million pounds (763 million dollars, 616 million euros) on slumping sales.
The airline, which is slashing costs and merging with Spanish rival Iberia in a bid to return to profitability, has been hit hard by the global economic downturn which has decreased demand for air travel.
Unite are planning two further five-day strikes, starting on May 30 and June 5.
© 2010 AFP