|British Airways cabin crew enter the final stage of a three-day strike Monday. AFP file|
LONDON (AFP) – British Airways cabin crew enter the final stage of a three-day strike Monday, in a dispute over planned changes to pay and conditions that has caused travel misery for thousands of passengers.
After a weekend marked by fierce disagreement over the strike's effects between the airline and the Unite union, which represents its 12,000 cabin crew, the workers staged a final day of industrial action.
And unless a solution is found to the standoff over attempts by loss-making BA to downgrade its employees' pay and perks packages, among the most lucrative in the industry, the staff will walk out again for four days from March 27.
BA claimed it had held up well during the walkout on Saturday and Sunday, saying it had reinstated at least 26 flights that had been axed as many cabin crew chose to turn up for work.
"We promised we would keep BA flying, that's exactly what we've done," said chief executive Willie Walsh in a video statement Sunday.
"I'm delighted that so many people in British Airways have come together to make sure that we keep the flag flying."
But Unite said less than 20 percent of crew scheduled to work had turned up over the weekend, and the action had turned Heathrow's flagship Terminal 5 into a "ghost town."
"Contrary to the spin from the company about this strike collapsing, only five cabin crew have broken ranks and 80 have gone sick," Unite's joint leader Tony Woodley said.
He appealed to the BA board to bypass Walsh and resolve the dispute to halt a second round of industrial action due to start Saturday, which is targeting the busy Easter holiday period.
"I am now appealing to the BA chairman and sensible members of the board to use their influence, put passengers first, and return to the negotiating table for the good of everyone," Woodley said.
"It is quite obvious this strike is in no one's interest. We need a negotiated settlement."
BA claimed that 97 percent of cabin crew scheduled to work on Saturday and Sunday at Gatwick had come in to work, and more than half the crews due to work over the weekend at Heathrow had turned up.
Against this, Unite said only 300 cabin crew out of 2,200 rostered to work had come in over the weekend.
Passengers who were able to travel said the strike had complicated their journeys.
Diane Huntley, 50, and her daughter Robin from Maine, New England, had to make a nine-hour bus trip from Edinburgh when their connecting flight to Heathrow was cancelled. They were on the way to Boston.
"My heart sank when we found out it was cancelled and it affected the holiday," Diane Huntley said.
BA said it would operate eight long-haul flights and 18 short-haul flights which it had earlier expected to cancel. Destinations included Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Cape Town.
As well as using non-striking staff, the airline is offering travellers seats on planes leased from other carriers, including budget airline Ryanair.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and finance minister Alistair Darling have both criticised the strike.
But with a general election expected to take place in May, the main opposition Conservatives have accused the government of a limp response to the strike because Unite is a donor to the ruling Labour Party.