- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

From combined dispatches

British Airways said it expects to resume service in and out of the Washington region today after a 24-hour walkout in London that forced the airline to cancel flights.

The airline late yesterday began operating “a limited number of aircraft” out of London’s Heathrow Airport, after the strike stranded about 70,000 travelers at the country’s busiest airport.

Flights in and out of the Washington area yesterday were canceled because of the strike.

They included three British Airways departures and three arrivals scheduled at Washington Dulles International Airport, and one departure and one arrival at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. All were to or from Heathrow Airport.

British Airways warned that the disruption caused by more than 500 canceled flights at one of the world’s busiest airports would continue for many hours.

“We face a complex logistical challenge with at least 100 aircraft and 1,000 flying crew out of position,” said British Airways customer services director, Mike Street. “As a result it will take some time to return to a normal flying program.”

About 1,000 baggage handlers and other ground staff walked out Thursday in support of workers fired by catering firm Gate Gourmet. Analysts warned the airline faced losses of tens of millions of dollars.

About 1,000 passengers spent the night on floors and in seating areas at the airport, British Airways said, while about 4,000 were put up in hotels nearby. Incoming flights were diverted to airports as far away as Newcastle in northern England and Glasgow, Scotland.

British Airways Chief Executive Rod Eddington said the situation was “regrettable in the extreme.”

“This is not our dispute,” Mr. Eddington said. “Our customers must come first and everyone involved in creating this chaotic situation must come to their senses.”

But many of the passengers who spent the night on floors and lounge benches, and faced hours-long lines to make alternative flight arrangements, blamed the airline.

“I’m too polite a lady to say what I think of British Airways,” said Daphne Morley, a resident of Melbourne, Australia, attempting to fly to St. Petersburg. “Our luggage is somewhere in Neverland. There’s no chance of change of clothing or anything.”

Others took it all in stride. A group of Portuguese Boy Scouts fashioned a makeshift shelter out of luggage trolleys and sleeping bags inside Heathrow’s Terminal 1.

“We are all a little frustrated, but we can’t do anything about it so we don’t let it bother us,” said Jimmy Kakoo, one of the Scouts.

Qantas, Finnair, British Mediterranean and Sri Lankan Airlines, all of which use British Airways ground staff, also canceled their flights from Heathrow yesterday.

Heathrow management warned that the disruption would last for days.

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