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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK
BA resumes flights from Heathrow
British Airways tail fins
Flights are now resuming but the backlog will take a while to clear
A few dozen British Airways flights have left Heathrow, but a massive backlog of passengers remains following wildcat strike action.

BA said 1,000 ground staff and baggage handlers, who walked out in sympathy with 670 workers sacked by caterer Gate Gourmet, have been returning to work.

The unofficial strike is thought to have affected up to 70,000 passengers.

BA despatched 31 flights during the evening, but only those with confirmed reservations were allowed to fly.

But it hopes that it will fly 50% of its short haul flights and 40% of its long haul ones on Saturday.

Anyone without a reservation is being warned not to go to the airport, and there are barriers in place at their airport to prevent those without reservations being allowed through.

Those flights that are going will leave at their scheduled departure times and carry a mixture of passengers already booked onto them. Those delayed in the chaos will fill the other spaces.

This is not our dispute
Sir Rod Eddington
BA chief executive

But BA are advising that there will be no in-flight meals and says it will be sending planes out with refreshments that they have provided themselves.

BA says it will refund those who have to stay in a hotel on Friday night, up to a value of 100.

Talks held at conciliation service Acas between Gate Gourmet and the Transport and General Workers' Union earlier were described as "constructive" and "useful".

No meals

They are due to resume on Saturday.

But there could still be disruption for days to come, with a huge backlog of passengers from Thursday and Friday's cancelled flights.

Nearly 100 BA aircraft and 1,000 pilots and cabin crew still in the wrong place around the world, BA said.

CHAOS AT HEATHROW
Wed: Gate Gourmet's afternoon shift is sacked after workers miss a deadline to report to work. BA cancel four flights due to a lack of food
Thurs: Some BA staff stop work in sympathy with sacked staff. BA cancels all flights into and out of Heathrow until at least 1800 BST on Friday, after talks with unions break down
Fri: BA extends its flight cancellations until 2000 BST. Acas announces talks are to take place between TGWU and Gate Gourmet. BA staff start returning to work.
By 2230 (BST) all 31 flights BA are flying will have left Heathrow

But the airline is no longer asking people to find alternative methods of transport.

Two unofficial strikes lie at the heart of the travel chaos.

The first by about 600 Gate Gourmet employees who were sacked after taking unofficial action over the firm's restructuring plans prompted a second walk out by BA baggage handlers and other ground staff.

It was this industrial action that led the airline to cancel hundreds of flights on Thursday and Friday.

BA would usually run about 550 flights a day from Heathrow during the busy holiday season, involving 70,000 passengers. The dispute is thought to have cost BA 10m a day.

BA Chief Executive Rod Eddington said: "This is not our dispute. Our customers must come first and everyone involved in creating this chaotic situation must come to their senses."

AFFECTED AIRLINE NUMBERS
British Airways:
0800 727 800
Qantas:
0870 000 0123
Sri Lankan Airlines:
0208 538 2000
Finnair:
08705 997711
GB Airways:
0870 850 9850
British Med Airlines:
0870 850 9850

But many disgruntled BA passengers, 1,000 of whom spent Thursday night at the airport, have blamed airport staff for poor communication and say the advice line is constantly engaged.

BA said they had extra staff on duty and were trying to answer people's calls as quickly as possible, but also recommended people visit the BA website.

Qantas, Sri Lankan, Finnair, GB and British Mediterranean, also serviced by BA ground staff, were also affected.

Gate Gourmet director Richard Wells denied being heavy-handed over the sacking of staff, saying they were spoken to and given written warnings before being dismissed.

But the firm is insisting it will not reinstate its sacked employees, who have vowed to fight on.

They thanked BA workers who went out in solidarity, despite their return to work on Friday.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Passengers react to the news of the cancellations



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