Passengers stay calm as travel plans are halted

Strikers find sympathy among stranded thousands at Heathrow
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The Independent Online
It was the day that Heathrow stood still. The action of 5,000 cabin crew and the intransigence of the nation's flag carrier snuffed out the plans of thousands of holiday-makers and business people yesterday.

But despite the inconvenience caused by the strike, the crowds of would- be travellers remained calm and philosophical in the face of their adversity.

Les Welbourne, and his wife, Hillary, were on their way home to Yorkshire after holidaying in Pennsylvania. "They told us in Philly that there wouldn't be a connecting shuttle home and offered us a train ticket instead," he said.

But feeling they had too much luggage to take on the train, they had declined and instead telephoned their son in Huddersfield for a lift.

But Mr Welbourne said he symapathised with the unions.

"If they're offering them these bad settlements, then they're right to take action."

Lynne Astley, from Brisbane, and her 13-year-old daughter, Jo, were less understanding. They dropped Mrs Astley's sister at Terminal 1 and were hoping their own flight would not be delayed.

"My husband was a union man, but I think they don't realise the consequences for all the rest of us," she said.

In Terminal 4, Alexandria Janiszcak, 27, a graphic designer, who was heading home to Connecticut, summed up the mood of the waiting crowds.

"They gave me a cheese danish, but I want them to give me a plane."

Despite the large crowds of frustrated travellers, the atmosphere on the picket lines remained good-humoured, although the presence of BA management representatives soured the banter somewhat.

"We don't mind them watching us," said one stewardess with Bassa, the cabin crew union.

"We have even offered them a drink at lunch. Their presence is just a symptom of management's paranoia."

Outside the airline's crew centre, striking workers claimed that management had installed cameras to record those staff on the picket lines. But Mervyn Walker, director of human resources, denied that crew were under surveillance.

Union members also claimed they had been harassed in the weeks leading up to the strike. Many said that executives had told them that their actions would "end your career with BA".

The problem is pay. Staff say that the new conditions, imposed by the airline after five months of inconclusive negotiations with Bassa, will see a substantial loss in their earnings.

One purser, with the airline for 21 years, said his basic pay was pounds 19,000 a year. With car and unsocial hour allowances, he manages to bring home pounds 24,000 a year. "The new deal would see me only with pounds 22,950 a year. I have got kids and cannot afford to do that," he said.

However, a smaller, rival union, Cabin Crew 89 - which accepted the pay deal in May, claimed that "nobody would lose out".

Anthony Lamb, a cabin service director with BA who worked yesterday, said "I now get pounds 23,000 a year - that's 14 per cent more than I used to. It's not that I've lost my allowances, they have just been incorporated into my pay."

Mr Lamb, who joined CC89 when it was set up eight years ago, said that bad blood between the two crew unions had made working difficult. "It is a problem when people say you are breaking their strike or calling you a scab".

But the real battle is still between Bassa and BA.

"You see the whole place has changed out of all recognition in the last few years," said one stewardess, who has been with BA for 27 years.

"We did not agree with everything Lord King or Colin Marshall did. But they respected their staff. Bob Ayling just wants cheap labour. He doesn't like us, he loathes us."