BA plans more flights as strike talk hits deadlock

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The Independent Travel

British Airways plans to increase its flying schedule during the final wave of strikes by cabin crew next week because of "growing numbers" of staff wanting to work as normal, the airline said today.

The announcement came as both sides in the long-running dispute resumed talks at the conciliation service Acas, with little sign of a breakthrough to the deadlocked row.

Members of Unite stayed on strike today for the third day of a five-day walkout, with another five-day stoppage due to start on Saturday.

Unite has warned of further strikes in the summer, but the union will have to hold a fresh ballot of members, which is likely to take four or five weeks to organise.

BA said it will increase its Heathrow long-haul schedule to more than 80% next week - up from 70% this week and 60% in the first strike period in March.

It will be increasing its Heathrow short-haul schedule to 60% of flights, up from more than 55% this week and more than 50% during the earlier strikes.

BA said flights at Gatwick, the UK's second busiest airport, will remain unaffected by industrial action due to the levels of cabin crew "ignoring" Unite's strike calls. Flights at London City airport will also operate as normal.

The airline said it will fly its full schedule (26 departures a week) to South Africa with thousands of fans due to fly out to Johannesburg and Cape Town from Heathrow Terminal 5 ahead of the World Cup kick-off.

BA said it will also continue to fly its entire Heathrow to New York JFK schedule and serve in excess of 85% of its long-haul destinations and 100% of its short-haul network.

Customers are being contacted today to give them as much notice as possible about their specific travel plans between June 5 and June 9, when BA expects to fly more than 75% of customers - 65,000 a day - who hold a booking.

"Many thousands more will be able to use seats which have been secured on more than 50 other airlines to reach their destination. Customers can also be rebooked on to an alternative BA flight departing within the next 355 days. Refunds are also available for customers whose flights have been cancelled.

"The airline will continue to lease up to eight aircraft from other UK or European airlines to supplement its short-haul schedule at Heathrow," BA said in a statement.

"British Airways' flight programme is complex, involving the combination of rosters for 13,000 cabin crew, more than 3,000 pilots and 230 aircraft operating schedules. More than 8,000 flight and cabin crew have to be in the right place at the right time, either on aircraft, at airports or in crew hotels in more than 140 cities in more than 70 countries, every day."

Unite's joint leader Tony Woodley today travelled to London from Manchester, where his union's national conference is being held, to attend fresh talks with BA's chief executive Willie Walsh.

Unite said the 15 days of strike action since March had cost BA more than £100 million, with each day adding a further £7 million.

"On day 15, the cost for the strike is now £105 million. BA is continuing to operate a reduced service. Unite continues to receive reports of flights leaving with either no passengers or with significantly reduced passenger levels - yet loaded with food for full flight," said one official.

Meanwhile, the European Transport Workers' Federation today expressed its concern about the dispute, and the disciplinary action taken against cabin crew.

Francois Ballestero, the ETF's Political Secretary for Civil Aviation said: "The attacks of the BA management against workers' basic social rights make a strong union reaction absolutely unavoidable."