Heathrow BA misery continues as 10,000 suitcases go missing
Sunday 14 August 2005
The luggage chaos emerged as a major new problem, as the airport attempts to recover from the wildcat strike action that first paralysed BA and other airlines on Thursday. Four out of five flights were operating normally yesterday, but thousands of would-be travellers remained in limbo.
No priority has been given to those who suffered long delays. Instead they are being rebooked where seats are available, offered the chance to travel on another airline, or given a refund. But baggage trapped in the system has delayed passengers from setting out on alternative routes. And it is expected to take several days for the backlog to be cleared.
Up to 100,000 travellers have had their trips disrupted since Wednesday when BA staff walked out in sympathy with hundreds of catering workers who were sacked by a supplier of in-flight meals, Gate Gourmet.
The industrial action by workers, including baggage handlers, crippled the airport and cost the airline about £40m in refunds and hotel bills at the height of the holiday season. Talks between Gate Gourmet and the Transport and General Workers' Union, which represents its sacked workers, continued at a hotel through the day.
A Heathrow spokeswoman said there were still several thousand passengers who had not yet been allocated tickets for a flight that would be operating, but it was impossible to give exact figures for how many people were waiting.
Flights began running again at 8.30pm on Friday after BA staff returned to their posts.
But the episode has led to angry condemnation of the union for failing to control the BA militants who led the secondary action. Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said a "malign influence" was at work in the airport, which has been hit by disruption three years in a row.
"There is no doubt about it, we have a leadership out of control at Heathrow, the T&G particularly has no backbone. It is spineless union leadership." The Huddersfield MP said it was no accident the rows flare up in August as "they are pre-planned and plotted".
A huge marquee has been erected to accommodate people who turned up despite being urged to stay away. Many were still experiencing frustration, but were making the best of it. Two families from Plymouth, Devon, were camped out in the Terminal 4 marquee yesterday after arriving at Heathrow at 6am to be told their flight to Abu Dhabi had been cancelled.
Chris Booth, 38, who has two children, said: "We phoned last night and were told it was all on, so when we turned up here they said it was all off. If we had known I could have left my wife and children at the hotel but the BA helpline is not manned between midnight and 9am and our flight was meant to be at 9.30am."
Sitting with the couple's sons, Jacob, 12, and 11-year-old Joseph, Mr Booth's wife, Janet, 39, said: "It's been a bit of a laugh so far. We have not had a sense of humour failure yet but come back in four hours."
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