Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

British Airways examining 'all strike options'

BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh: "It's a cynical exercise"

British Airways is continuing to explore its options ahead of a planned 12-day strike by cabin crew over the Christmas period.

The airline is still assessing the impact the strike will have on its flights schedule, with almost all its cabin crew expected to be unavailable.

The strikes, which are due to begin on 22 December, are expected to affect up to a million passengers.

The Unite union said 96% of BA's 13,500 cabin crew were union members.

'Incredibly complicated'

British Airways is currently sorting through thousands of crew and pilot rotas in order to work out a new schedule for the Christmas period, but was not able to say when the new plans would be finalised.

The BBC's employment correspondent Martin Shankleman, said he doubted if the airline would be able to schedule many flights, given the huge numbers of crew set to strike.

As we stand the flights are already over 75% full, so people looking to get away should act quickly
Paul Simmons, Easyjet's UK general manager

When faced with a strike in 2007, BA opted to ground all flights before the strike was eventually called off.

John Stickland, an airline consultant at JLS Consulting said the process of rescheduling was likely to be "incredibly complicated".

"BA will want to forget short-haul and European flights and prioritise long-haul instead," he said.

"With reduced cabin crew numbers, it's difficult to say how many flights will run. At a guess I would say a maximum of 10%, but its likely to be much less."

Rivals jump in

BA's rivals have been quick to take advantage of the potential absence of its competitor during the busy Christmas season.

BMI has already launched adverts in several national newspapers alluding to the strikes, while Easyjet and Ryanair are hoping to attract BA customers despite many flights already being full.

Anthea Barteau
I cannot believe the completely selfish behaviour of people who are employed by BA
Anthea Barteau, London

"We have seen additional bookings over the past 24 hours and we will do whatever we can to accommodate people's travel needs over the holiday period," said Paul Simmons, Easyjet's UK general manager.

"However, to put this into context, as we stand the flights are already over 75% full, so people looking to get away should act quickly."

Huge cost

If the strike goes ahead as planned it is expected to cost BA tens of millions of pounds in lost revenues.

Analysts estimate that the airline will lose between £200m and £300m in revenues if all flights are grounded for the duration of the strike.

That will come on top of the £1.6m BA is estimated to be losing every day.

However, Laurie Price, aviation consultant at Mott McDonald, said the real cost of the strike was more difficult to calculate, as BA is likely to make savings on operating costs as a result of grounding aircraft.

"You have to remember BA will not pay anything for fuel, hydraulic fluids, catering, landing fees and so on if its aircraft is grounded," he said, estimating the total net loss resulting from the strike at between £180m and £240m.

Last month, BA, set out the extent of its already difficult financial situation and said it urgently needed to cut costs.

It revealed it had lost £292m in the first half of the year - the worst period in its history - and said it would have to cut a further 1,200 staff.

Large mandate

As part of its cost-cutting the airline reduced the number of cabin crew from 15 to 14 on all long-haul flights.

This change, along with new staff contracts, is central to the current dispute as unions complained they were not consulted.

Monday's result from the ballot of BA cabin crew saw them vote in favour of strike action by nine to one according to Unite, with an 80% turnout.

We've been backed into a corner by BA. I have to say yes to industrial action
Anonymous BA cabin crew member

Unite assistant general secretary Len McCluskey said the outcome demonstrated the strength of feeling among staff, saying they wanted to be treated with "dignity and respect".

"We have taken this decision to disrupt passengers with a heavy heart and we are hoping that the company can still avoid it happening," he said.

However, some union members expressed surprise at the duration and timing of the strike action.

One cabin crew member, who asked not to be named, told the BBC he would have preferred to see strike action delayed until after the busy Christmas period.

"Had there been a box on the ballot form saying yes to a strike - but wait until the new year - I personally would have ticked it, and I can see large numbers of cabin crew doing the same thing," he said, saying that ballot forms offered only two options - strike or no strike.

"We've been backed into a corner by BA. I have to say yes to industrial action."

The cabin crew member added that staff were receiving often contradictory information from the union and BA.

"At the end of the day I have to put the trust in my union who I pay to look after my terms and conditions," he said.

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