One million people will eagerly await the wise words of the Honourable Mrs Justice Cox when she rules later today on the legality of the strike ballot by British Airways cabin crew. Until that case is concluded – or a settlement is negotiated between BA and the union, Unite – the airline will not disclose its plans for the strike.
There are three possible outcomes: no flights from Heathrow or Gatwick, some flights, or all flights. But until the result is known, those million prospective passengers are enduring a degree of uncertainty akin to waiting on an aircraft without a take-off slot. They cannot leave and find another flight without potentially forfeiting their fare. And, with only five days remaining before the first departures due from Heathrow to Istanbul and Gatwick to Amsterdam on 22 December, they have no idea where they will spend Christmas or New Year.
From The Independent's website to radio phone-ins to online forums, the fury from these passengers is plain. "I just want to thank British Airways cabin crew for ruining my holiday, and thousands and thousands of other holidays," Toni from Harrow told listeners to the London news station LBC 97.3. She was in tears as she said her long-planned trip for a family reunion in New York on Christmas Eve appeared to be wrecked. "I booked my flight six months ago and thought 'I'll fly the flag'. I tell you: the worst thing I ever did was book with British Airways."
On the same show, a BMI cabin crew member named Marie called to ask about the likely status of a New Year trip to New York on BA; her airline has just announced hundreds of redundancies in a bid to staunch its losses. "We're at our wits' end. At the moment we're trying to hang on to our jobs. I love my job and I want to hold on to it."
The frequent-flyer online forum FlyerTalk had recorded nearly 50,000 views on the BA Christmas strike thread by 6pm last night. Many contributors expressed exasperation at what they regard as the airline's slackness in publishing a schedule or transferring passengers to other airlines. One contributor wrote: "If worst comes to worst, we can start a big FlyerTalk video chat on Christmas Day when we are stuck in places other than our final destination."
Responses on The Independent's website have been heated. "For crying out loud: what were you thinking when you cast your vote to go on strike? That we, the flying public, would back you up?", asked Rudi Jansen. "Insensitive, self-centred and manipulated by your union is how I describe your behaviour."
"Wakey 67" wrote: "I for one hope BA goes to the wall, it deserves to. Ryanair/EasyJet/Virgin are giving the customer exactly what they want. BA is stuck in the past and as such deserves to be a thing of the past."
But the newspaper's coverage itself attracted strong criticism, with one contributor saying a story of mine "demonstrates a degree of bias and petulance that exceeds even the usual abysmal standards of travel journalists".