- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of disgruntled vacationers were stranded at Heathrow Airport yesterday after British Airways canceled scores of flights because of staff shortages and technical hitches.

Passengers at Europe’s busiest airport slept on benches, joined long lines to re-book their flights or simply gave up and returned home as the airline grounded 56 flights over two days.

“To be told that they’ve got no staff is ludicrous,” said Tom Edmonds, 36, whose flight to Nice, France, was canceled. “I’m only going for four days, and I now have to queue up to try and get myself booked on a later flight.”

British Airways pulled the plug on 31 flights to and from short-haul destinations in Britain and Europe yesterday — a day after it scrapped 25 flights to the United States and other European destinations.

Most other flights operated by the airline, which usually carries approximately 100,000 passengers a day, were delayed by several hours. British Airways said it expected at least 8,000 travelers to be directly affected by the end of yesterday.

British Airways urged all passengers to consult its Web site before going to Heathrow, but many travelers complained that up-to-date information was not available at the site.

Passengers at the airport described scenes of chaos as travelers tried to gain information about flights from check-in staff.

“… The attitude of the [British Airways] staff is lamentable — they basically have a charm absence — and it seems to be a disinterest generally in passenger care,” said Douglas Evans, who was scheduled to fly to Nice with his wife and two teenage children for an eight-day vacation.

Mr. Evans said he would travel with budget airlines in the future.

A British Airways spokeswoman said most people who were scheduled to fly yesterday were re-booked on other flights.

British Airways’ problems began Monday afternoon when it canceled flights to Philadelphia, Chicago and New York because of technical problems with its aircraft.

Those cancellations, combined with staff shortages at the airline, had a domino effect, leading to the cancellation of flights Monday and yesterday.

“August is the busiest period of the year for British Airways, and services at Heathrow are stretched,” the airline said. “We have also had some technical problems with our aircraft and these combined has resulted in the cancellations.”

The airline, which is recruiting more staff, said it was approximately 120 staff members short at Heathrow. A spokesman said the airline was caught short by several staff members leaving unexpectedly at the beginning of the summer and large numbers of staff members absent on sick leave.

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