Cabin crew strikes cost BA as much as £45m

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Cabin crew strikes cost British Airways up to £45m last month, but talks with the trade unions are now under way again, the airline said yesterday.

BA carried 11.4 per cent fewer passengers in March than in the same month of 2009, dragged down by two stints of industrial action adding up to seven days. The company was keen to stress the degree by which it maintained its operations despite the strikes.

In the first weekend, BA operated 78 per cent of its long-haul and 50 per cent of its short-haul flights. And in the second weekend, it operated 83 per cent of its long-haul and 67 per cent of its short-haul flights. Taken together, BA flew 79 per cent of its long-haul and 58 per cent of its short-haul flights as planned, the company said.

But there was no denying the high cost of the ructions as standard-class traffic dropped by 12.2 per cent and first and business class fell by 7.2 per cent. "Both traffic and capacity were affected by the strike action by cabin crew represented by the Unite union," BA said. "The total impact of the strike action in the month is estimated to be £40m to £45m."

The dispute with Unite over proposed changes to cabin crews' terms and conditions is still not resolved, although discussions that stalled in the run-up to the second wave of industrial action have now restarted. BA said yesterday that talks "have been positive" so far.

Unite is also sounding more conciliatory. The union had warned of further stoppages if an agreement could not be reached. But Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary, yesterday said it would be unnecessary to set further dates while talks are "continuing and making progress".

"It is welcome that talks have resumed and I am pleased that some serious progress has been made over the issues which have divided us," he said. "However, there is more work to be done, and further discussions will take place with the company over the next few days."

Aside from problems with its unions, BA said the underlying economic conditions in the recession-battered aviation sector are continuing to show marked signs of recovery. Meanwhile, budget giant Ryanair saw passenger numbers jump by 13 per cent to 5.3 million last month. Load factors rose by two percentage points to 79 per cent.