Thursday, January 25, 2007

LONDON (AP) — British Airways PLC is canceling all its flights to and from London’s Heathrow Airport and several more from its Gatwick terminal for two days next week because of a strike by cabin crews.

The airline said yesterday that 1,300 flights to and from the London airports will be grounded during the 48-hour walkout on Tuesday and Wednesday.

BA Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh said the carrier still hoped to reach an agreement with the Transport and General Workers’ Union, but the contingency plans were necessary after talks between the two broke down earlier yesterday.

“If we postponed the cancellation of flights until the eve of a strike, customers would have virtually no time to make alternative arrangements,” said Mr. Walsh.

He added that more than 15,000 customers a day had contacted the airline since hearing news of the strike.

“We remain absolutely determined to search for a negotiated settlement and our door remains open to the T&G, day or night,” he added.

BA said that passengers affected by the strike will be able to claim a full refund, rebook their flight for a later date, or be rebooked by the airline onto another carrier.

British Airways has one daily arrival and departure at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and two arrivals and departures daily at Washington Dulles International Airport.

Negotiations between the airline and the union, which represents about 11,000 airline workers, on pay and sick leave policy fell apart with each blaming the other for the failure to reach agreement.

The union has proposed further walkouts for Feb. 5 to 7 and Feb. 12 to 14 if the dispute is not resolved.

“The company has failed to hear the voice of common sense. This is a sad day for passengers and cabin crew alike,” said Jack Dromey, deputy secretary-general of the union.

BA said it would fly some empty planes out of Heathrow on Monday and Tuesday to pick up passengers in other destinations, but warned of further cancellations on either side of the official strike dates because crew and aircraft will be out of position.

The airline has opened an extra call center, staffed by 100 workers, to deal with customer inquiries.

Analysts said the strike action could cost the airline between $20 million to $29.6 million a day. British Airways shares fell 1.3 percent to $10.44 on the London Stock Exchange.

BA has struggled in recent years to prevent strike action. Last year, a walkout by staff at catering firm Gate Gourmet and BA ground workers during the peak August holiday season led to hundreds of canceled flights.

Earlier this month, the carrier pledged to pay a one-time cash contribution of $1.6 billion plus annual contributions of $550 million to help reduce its gaping $4.1 billion pension fund deficit in a bid to avoid industrial action in a separate union dispute.

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