BA Says Reaches Most Destinations As Strike Starts
British Airways flew to the majority of its destinations worldwide on Monday despite the start of a five-day strike by cabin crew, it said, adding no further negotiations with unions were imminent.
The airline reiterated plans to operate more than 60 percent of long-haul flights and more than 50 percent of short-haul flights from London's Heathrow Airport, allowing 70 percent of passengers to reach their destinations.
Flights from London's Gatwick and City airports were not affected by the strike. Two more five-day strikes are planned if the dispute over wages, jobs and working conditions is not resolved, following stoppages in March.
"British Airways flew to 85 percent of its long-haul destinations and 100 percent of its short-haul destinations," it said in a statement on Monday.
BA, which flies to over 300 destinations every day, said it had leased eight aircraft with pilots and cabin crew from other airlines to keep passengers on the move.
BA chief executive Willie Walsh and leaders of the Unite union, which represents cabin crew, blame each other for a breakdown in communication. "There are no more talks on the horizon," a BA spokesman said.
The issue of travel allowances for cabin crew has become a major sticking point in the conflict, which comes at a difficult time for BA. Last week, the airline announced a full-year loss of GBP£531 million pounds (USD$764 million).
"I made an offer to Willie Walsh yesterday to put back our people's travel concessions that he has vindictively and foolishly taken away from them and I would personally call this strike off," Unite co-leader Tony Woodley told BBC Radio.
BA shares had risen a quarter in value in the past year as an industry-wide recession eased, but 10 percent of those gains disappeared last week after a court said staff could press ahead with further strike action.
BA stock closed 0.9 percent up at 190.1 pence on Monday, valuing the business at around GBP£2.2 billion.
Analyst Stephen Furlong at Davy Stockbrokers said the market was more interested in the state of BA's underlying business than the strikes and noted trading conditions were improving.
Last Friday, BA forecast a return to break-even next year and said its yield -- the revenue it makes on each passenger for every mile travelled -- rose 3.2 percent between January and April and would likely keep growing in 2010.
Some analysts, however, said the strikes could put off previously loyal BA customers from flying with it in future.
"Strike action at BA will not, in my view, succeed except that it risks alienating BA from more of its customers long term, meaning it could seriously weaken the airline," BGC Partners senior strategist Howard Wheeldon said.
The British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) said BA pilots had stayed neutral throughout the dispute, despite "the very real risk it posed for the future of all BA employees".
"We have encouraged both sides to reach agreement and helped initiate the new coalition government's attempt to bring the two sides together," BAPLA general secretary Jim McAuslan said.
The strikes in March cost BA GBP£43 million, a figure included in the loss posted last week. BA has suffered an additional GBP£100 million hit due to disruption to flights caused by ash from the Icelandic volcano.
The most recent face-to-face talks between BA and union leaders came to an ill-tempered halt after protesters from a left-wing group invaded the venue.