If negotiations fail to produce a settlement few BA flights will be in the air from around 4am on that date anywhere in the world, according to the British Airline Pilots' Association. It would be the first major indefinite strike since the miners' conflict a decade ago and could do serious damage to the economy. The management calculates that around one in five flight crew is not a Balpa member and would "keep flying the flag", but hundreds of thousands of holiday makers and business people could be affected by the stoppage. The airlift to the Olympic games in Atlanta could be a victim.
A spokeswoman for British Airways tour operators BA Holidays, which caters for 15,000 passengers in July and August, said contingency plans had already been worked out. She said they would try to fit travellers on to other carriers where possible and convenient, giving priority to people getting married or on honeymoons. "If passengers wish to cancel they can do so without a cancellation fee for departures up to 31 July."
The union estimates that the disruption would cost BA around pounds 40m a day in lost business, although the vast majority of holidaymakers will be unaffected because most travel companies use smaller charter airlines. Chris Darke, general secretary of Balpa, said last night that the union was giving management 11 days to improve its offer rather than the seven days notice of a strike required by law.
The management last night indicated that it may take legal action against the union alleging that the 90 per cent vote in favour of action was taken before an improved offer was made. Pilots operating out of Gatwick, who are paid considerably less than colleagues based at Heathrow, have been offered an additional 10 per cent to be paid for through increased flying hours.
Mr Darke was "puzzled and dismayed" by management's insistence on clarification of Balpa's demands. The 16 July date will cause maximum embarrassment to BA because it coincides with the company's annual meeting.
A spokesman for BA regretted the decision. The spokesman said that a revised offer had been made which was unknown to pilots. The ballot was therefore "out of date". "We are ready to talk without preconditions. The pilots should encourage their representatives to go back to the table."