BA expects schedule to return to normal

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British Airways expects to have all of its European short-haul operations from Heathrow back to normal working by Monday together with just more than 95 per cent of its long-haul flights.

The airline gradually overcame much of the chaos created in its global operations late last week, which were paralysed by a 24-hour unofficial strike by about 1,000 of its ground services staff, chiefly baggage handlers and loaders, air crew bus drivers and cargo workers.

After cancelling or diverting 700 flights on Thursday and Friday stranding 110,000 passengers, BA said that it had operated more than 80 per cent of its flight schedule on Saturday and 95 per cent on Sunday. Only 16 short-haul flights, eight outbound and eight inbound, were cancelled on Sunday and most long-haul services were operated.

A handful of long-haul flights are still likely to be subject to cancellation in the first part of the week, until all flight crew have completed their minimum mandatory rest periods.

The airline said that all the passengers affected by the strike had been rebooked or had made other arrangements and the backlog should be cleared early this week. About 600 passengers were still being accommodated in hotels close to Heathrow airport, while the airline still had up to 10,000 bags to be reunited with their owners.

BA flights, including long-haul services of 13 to 14 hours’ duration, were still departing with minimal catering onboard, however, consisting only of water, tea and coffee and no food, as the initial industrial dispute at Gate Gourmet, BA’s sole catering supplier, which triggered the airline’s woes, remained unresolved.

The BA staff, members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, staged an unofficial strike in support of fellow union members at Gate Gourmet, where about 550 workers were dismissed last Wednesday as part of a long-running industrial conflict.

Talks between Gate Gourmet management and T&G leaders aimed at resolving the dispute were continuing on Sunday night under the auspices of Acas, the arbitration service, at a hotel at Heathrow.

Negotiations were focused on union efforts to have the dismissed workers reinstated and what the pre-conditions would be for such a move.

Gate Gourmet, which has come under attack from BA for the allegedly heavy-handed way it handled last week’s dismissals, added to tensions on Sunday, however, by announcing that it was investigating allegations that staff who were still working at its catering facilities around Heathrow – the workforce numbered 2,000 before last week – had been intimidated “racially, physically and verbally”, either on arrival at work or by telephone at home.

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