BA warns of more delays in wake of strikes

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British Airways passengers were warned to expect continued delays today while the airline tries to clear a backlog of thousands of travellers whose flights were cancelled by industrial action.

The holiday plans of more than 82,000 passengers have been disrupted in two days of unofficial action by BA staff at Heathrow during one of the busiest weekends of the year.

While passengers grounded by the industrial action were warned that they may suffer further delays, those planning to take flights scheduled for today were expected to face "minimal disruption", according to the airline. "We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience caused to everyone booked on our flightsduring these days," said Mike Street, the director of customer services at BA. "We are doing everything that we can to get as many of our customers as possible to their destinations."

After the walkout by staff on Friday and Saturday, more than 360 flights were cancelled. Services were starting to return to normal yesterday, with 18 flights cancelled and 113 running on schedule.

But a BA spokesman was unable to say how long passengers travelling today would be delayed or how long would be need to clear the backlog of grounded travellers.

"We are working as hard as we can and a lot of people have come in on their day off to help clear the backlog," he said. "We are working through it as quickly as we can. We have got some away on our airliners and other carriers."

The disruption began on Friday evening when 250 check-in staff in terminal one walked out over plans to introduce a new electronic method of signing in and out.

The airline announced at 8am on Saturday that the problem had been resolved and there would be no further cancellation beyond 10am. But a different set of check-in staff then began another unofficial walk-out at 10am, before they finally returned to work in a gesture of goodwill by mid- afternoon.

Flight cancellations hit destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Germany as well as domestic flights. Long-haul flights in terminals three and four were also affected.

Thousands of people were crammed into each of the airport terminals, with staff installing temporary seats outside and handing out drinks.

BA made an offer of a 3 per cent pay rise conditional on the staff's acceptance of the new system of clocking on to work, which workers had feared would result in being sent home during quiet periods and having to make up time when it was busier.

The two strikes were expected to cost the airline millions of pounds because of the disruption caused by the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The airline industry is still reeling from a series of problems, ranging from the Sars virus to the impact of the international war on terrorism.