Thousands of passengers travelling by British Airways face travel chaos as its cabin crew today launched a five-day strike, threatening to disrupt flights for weeks even as the airline claimed it will carry 70 per cent of travellers, already booked.
The walkout by members of the Unite union went ahead after hopes of a last-minute deal collapsed, with the two sides engaged in a war of words.
The row continued, with Tony Woodley, Unite's joint leader, accusing BA's chief executive Willie Walsh, of wanting "regime change" in the union's cabin crew branch, Bassa.
Woodley said, BA had achieved its original aim of cutting 1,700 cabin crew jobs, but had since "broadened" the dispute.
"Those savings are in the bank. This dispute has been broadened, so this is not just about cost downs, it is about regime change. It is personal because of the dislike and trust of the branch."
Woodley said, the strike would have been suspended if BA had accepted an offer he made yesterday to call off the action if the airline returned travel concessions to staff who took part in strikes in March.
BA said it was concentrating on its contingency plans to deal with the five days of action this week, pledging to carry 70 per cent of its customers.
The airline has accused Woodley of negotiating via the media rather than through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) and pointed the finger of blame at the union for failing to continue with talks yesterday.
In a statement, BA said it had agreed to a request from Acas to meet during the afternoon and was "surprised" that Unite did not do likewise.
"We have already offered to reinstate travel concessions to cabin crew once all elements of our offer have been implemented. Of more concern to us is Tony Woodley's comment to the media that he wants to revisit certain proposals in our offer, when previously he had indicated that these were agreed," it added.
This position reinforces our view that Bassa (the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association), at the centre of this dispute, is not serious in trying to come to a negotiated agreement with British Airways - and that Tony cannot control Bassa, it said.
The airline said its priority now was helping customers caught in the middle of the dispute, adding that its focus would be on flying tens of thousands of passengers in the coming days despite the strike.