BA flights resume, but thousands remain stranded

SUNDAY, AUG. 14, 2005

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.

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’ s wife in Sydney is expecting their first child any day now. He 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.”


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