Business leaders warned today that a series of planned strikes by British Airways cabin crew sent a "worrying message" about the state of the UK as the airline finalised its contingency plans to deal with the walkouts.
The airline said it planned to operate a "substantial" part of its long-haul schedule from Heathrow and predicted that flights to and from Gatwick would not be affected by the series of five-day stoppages, which will start a week today.
Soccer fans heading to South Africa next month for the World Cup as well as families going on holiday during the spring school break are among hundreds of thousands of passengers facing travel chaos in the coming weeks because of strikes on May 18-22 inclusive, May 24-28, May 30-June 3 and June 5-9.
The Unite union today urged cabin crew to challenge deductions from their pay during strikes in March, claiming that some cabin crew had wages deducted for days when they were not taking action.
Some crew have received back pay after contacting BA to complain about deductions, according to Unite.
BA said it was "saddened but not surprised" at the new strikes, adding: "This decision has no semblance of justification. Unite's officials continue to operate in their own world, showing callous disregard for our customers and their own members in all parts of our airline.
"We have made a very fair offer, which meets the concerns the union raised during 14 months of negotiations and also ensures that our crew remain the best rewarded in the UK airline industry. That offer remains available.
"We are confident that many crew will again ignore Unite's pointless strike call and support the efforts of the rest of the airline to keep our customers flying."
During the March strikes, BA said "well over" 80% of customers originally booked for travel during the period had flown and more than 60% of cabin crew had ignored the strike call - figures challenged by the union.
Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of business group London First, said today: "The threat of further strikes is a heavy blow to the negotiated resolution passengers and business in London want to see. It points to insular thinking divorced from economic reality, and hangs over passengers like the ash cloud that has caused so much disruption.
"This unnecessary escalation sends a worrying message to the world at the very moment UK plc should be open for business and fighting its way out of recession, not locked in a morbid dance with the dogma and ideologies of the past."