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Published on Friday, August 12, 2005

'Crippling' dispute leaves BA Heathrow flights grounded

Up to 500 British Airways flights to and from Heathrow have been cancelled until at least 18.00 today following industrial action at an in-flight catering company.

About 70,000 passengers worldwide are likely to be affected today as the airline told people not to turn up at the airport. The disruption is expected to last for several days due to aircraft being left out of position.

The airline was forced to suspend all flights to and from Heathrow yesterday afternoon due to unofficial strike action and no departures are expected until this evening at the earliest.

BA has been trying to resolve the dispute involving about 1,000 baggage handlers, loaders and drivers and some check-in staff.

Some of the carrier's ground staff walked out in sympathy following industrial action at catering firm Gate Gourmet after more than 600 employees were dismissed.

This resulted in a lack of hot food for long haul flights and led to four services being cancelled on Wednesday.

But in a dramatic escalation of the problem, all BA flights from Terminal 1 and 4 were grounded on Thursday due to the unofficial walk-out. Fifteen departures were cancelled and 14 inbound services were diverted.

Disruption today has spilled over to other airlines operating from Heathrow, including Qantas, Sri Lankan Airlines, Finnair, GB Airways and BMed.

A BA statement said: "Due to the uncertainty of the industrial action at Heathrow and aircraft and flying crew being out of position, the airline has taken the decision to cancel all Heathrow flights."

The airline's chief executive Sir Rod Eddington apologised "unreservedly" to passengers, saying: "This unprecedented move is a result of the crippling operational impact of unofficial industrial action by staff from the Transport and General Workers union.

"Because we have not had sufficient airport staff to operate flights into or out of Heathrow, nearly 100 of our aircraft and 1,000 pilots and cabin crew are in the wrong places around the world and we simply cannot mount a robust operation any earlier.

"It is a huge disappointment to us that we have become embroiled in someone else's dispute."

BA said the situation was being kept under constant review and it would do everything it can to get operations back to normal as soon as possible.

Bmi, the second biggest airline at Heathrow, is operating normally but warned passengers to allow extra time to check-in due to some "inevitable congestion" within the airport terminals.

Report by Phil Davies

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  • BA flights crippled

    It would be time fo BA to develop a policy of congenial labour relations in order to avoid the problems, that plagued the industry over the last 4 years. Top management must understand the staff concerns and allow for an equitable approach to his matter. Rigidity does not solve this situation but cements it.

    By Harry Schneider, Monday, August 15, 2005

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