BA to run more flights during next strike

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The Independent Online

British Airways plans to expand its flight schedule for the second wave of strikes by its cabin crew from this weekend, the airline announced tonight.

Less than 18 hours after thousands of Unite members ended a three-day walkout, BA said it will run a full operation at Gatwick during the next strikes, all flights from London City and extended services from Heathrow.

The firm said 55% of short-haul and 70% of long-haul flights will operate from Heathrow during the four-day walkout from this Saturday.

The airline said it will continue to supplement its short-haul schedule by leasing up to 11 aircraft with pilots and crews each day of the action from six different airlines based in the UK and Europe.

These are the key points of the BA schedule for March 27-30:

* The airline will operate a full, normal schedule at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex;

* Flights to and from London City Airport will operate as normal, including services to and from New York;

* More than 70% of long-haul services in and out of Heathrow will operate as planned. BA may be able to add to this schedule in the days ahead;

* The airline will be able to operate up to 55% of short-haul flights in and out of Heathrow. It will supplement its own schedule by hiring up to 11 aircraft each day with their own pilots and cabin crew. The airline may be able to add to this schedule in the days ahead;

* Flights operated by BA's European subsidiary OpenSkies between Paris and New York will operate as normal;

* Flights operated by BA franchise partners (Comair in South Africa and Sun Air in Scandinavia) will operate as normal;

* Flights operated by other carriers (including oneworld alliance partners) which have a BA codeshare flight number will operate as normal;

* All dedicated cargo freighter services continue to operate as normal.

BA said customers who were booked on flights that have now been cancelled will be offered seats on alternative British Airways flights or on services operated by other airlines or offered a full refund.

The airline said it was available to hold further talks with the Unite union, adding that it wanted customers to have advance notice of its flying schedule to remove uncertainty and allow sufficient time for alternative travel arrangements to be made.

"British Airways has again made arrangements with more than 60 other carriers, so that customers can be rebooked free of charge on to their flights if they had been due to travel on a BA flight that has been cancelled," said a company statement.

British Airways' chief executive Willie Walsh said: "The biggest contingency plan in our history went extremely well last weekend, with large numbers of cabin crew reporting for work as normal.

"As a result of the numbers of crew wanting to work, we are increasing significantly our flying schedule and will be operating a full schedule at Gatwick and London City Airports.

"I would like to thank all our customers for their patience and support. I apologise to those whose flights will regrettably have to be cancelled at Heathrow because of Unite's continuing action.

"This second strike is the work of a trade union that - despite its promises - seems determined to try to ruin the Easter holiday plans of thousands of families.

"Once again the union has misjudged the public mood. Our flag will continue to fly. We will do all we can to rebook affected customers on to other British Airways' flights, offer seats on alternative airlines or give a full refund.

"I stress again that our door remains open to Unite, day or night, if it wants to find a sensible settlement. It is not too late for Unite to call off this second set of strikes - and then we would do all we could to reinstate some of the cancelled flights."

BA said its flight programme was complex, involving 230 aircraft operating up to 650 services every day to or from 140 cities in more than 70 countries.

Customers were advised to check on a regular basis to see if their flight is still operating before departing for the airport.

Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, said: "Passengers will take one look at next weekend's strike schedule and rightly ask what on earth is going on. This schedule has more holes than a Swiss cheese.

"Is BA really saying that it would rather hit the travel plans of tens of thousands of people for another weekend than negotiate a settlement?

"Passengers are paying for management machismo. BA management should spend more time on addressing their employees' concerns and less on fantasy schedules sending empty planes to unknown destinations."

BA said the three-day strike which ended at midnight last night cost it £21 million and appears to be braced for similar losses during the next strikes.

Publication of the flight schedule dashed any hopes of an early breakthrough to the bitter dispute over cost-cutting and jobs.

The union has ruled out strikes over Easter but has warned of further action from mid-April if the deadlock is not broken.

BA has said contingency plans to cope with the strike were "very successful", and results for the year to March 31 would be "broadly unchanged".

Based on the estimates, BA would be left with a total bill of almost £50 million if the four-day strike goes ahead, although the airline said the cost of any action could be assessed only after the event.

Although BA said the outlook for the year was unchanged, it remains on course for record losses after racking up pre-tax loss of £342 million in the nine months to December 31.

The latest slide into the red follows losses of £401 million in the 12 months to last March as the firm was hit by recession and soaring oil prices.

Unite claimed today that catering on British Airways flights will be hit for the rest of the month as a result of the strike, adding that passengers on long-haul flights would be served only cold salads and sandwiches.

The union claimed the reduced catering service will be in place until at least March 30 as a knock-on effect of the dispute.

BA denied the union's claims about onboard catering and insisted that alcohol would be served on all flights.

A spokesman said: "The vast majority of our services around the world have the normal levels of catering and onboard customer service routines.

"Due to the strike action by Unite, there are a small number of long-haul flights operated on our Boeing 777 aircraft into and out of Heathrow, which will continue to have a simplified level of onboard customer service.

"There is the normal volumes of food on board the Boeing 777 aircraft, but the three-course meal served will be based around a high-quality salad. The second meal service is still available on these flights.

"We have to organise around 100,000 meals and tens of thousands of pieces of catering equipment in more than 140 cities around the world every day.

"We are sorry that the unjustified actions by Unite has meant that it will take a few days before we can get all of our catering operations and service routines on our Boeing 777 aircraft back to normal."