British Airways resumes flights, but many passengers remain stranded
LONDON – British Airways resumed hundreds of flights Saturday at one of the world’s busiest airports, while pleading for continued patience from thousands of passengers stranded by a ground-crew walkout.The airline said 420 out of its 500 scheduled flights were taking off from London’s Heathrow airport – 85 percent of its short-haul flights and 80 percent of its long-hauls.But with tens of thousands of passengers still backed up by a daylong strike that ended Friday, the airline said service would not reach normal levels for several more days.The strike was triggered by a dispute between catering staff and the U.S.-owned firm Gate Gourmet, which provides onboard meals for British Airways.”Like all the people here I am not pleased, but I am accepting the situation,” said Latific Vanja, a Norwegian who was stranded in London with his wife and two young children after flying in Friday from Los Angeles.”There’s been a lot of confusion, but I am happier now that I know I will be going home tomorrow,” said Vanja, who was told his flight home to Oslo would leave Sunday.In huge tents put up outside terminals, passengers were given free coffee and tea and newspapers to read. Chicken sandwiches, apples and carrot sticks were also provided, and entertainers were brought in to amuse the waiting children.”Our priority is still to get passengers as quickly as possible to their destination,” BA spokeswoman Pam Simpson said. “But absolutely we are still asking for patience, and customers are being very understanding.”Talks continued on resolving the catering dispute. Though all of the 1,000 striking workers returned to their jobs Friday afternoon, the airline had to get 100 aircraft and 1,000 flight crew back to where they belonged, spokeswoman Becky Thornton said.”It will take several days to get some stability to our schedule,” she said.The sheer number of stranded passengers – 70,000 on Friday, 40,000 on Thursday – added to the trouble. BA pleaded with travelers not to turn up at Heathrow on Saturday unless they had confirmed flight reservations. The airline was also scrambling to return 30,000 pieces of luggage to passengers.Australian Glen Perryman, 25, decided to use the delay to drop in at a pub in London and watch England play Australia in cricket. But Perryman, whose wife in Sydney is expecting their first child any day now, was anxious to get home.”I don’t know what’s happening,” he said. “I haven’t heard from her today so I could be a dad already. I just want to get out of here and get back home.”Others were less forgiving of the striking workers.”Why can these people disrupt public services in this way? They’re a pain,” said Peter Mohr, 42, a geologist attempting to fly to Oman.The union representing the catering company’s workers said 800 staff were fired Wednesday after an unofficial walkout. The company said 667 workers had been dismissed.BA baggage handlers and loaders represented by the same union – the Transport and General Workers’ Union – stopped work in sympathy with their colleagues.Gate Gourmet, which is undertaking a restructuring amid financial losses, said it was trying to resolve the dispute. Gate Gourmet is owned by the U.S. company Texas Pacific Group.As talks continued, flights operating Saturday had only limited catering, and passengers were being given food parcels to take onboard and food vouchers to buy snacks before boarding.This is the third consecutive year that BA has suffered a disruption at the height of the summer holiday season. Analysts warned the airline faced losses of up to $73 million from the latest dispute.Vail – Colorado
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