BA Cancels Flights As Cabin Crew Strikes

British Airways is canceling all its flights to and from London's Heathrow airport and several more from its Gatwick terminal for two days next week because of a strike by cabin crew.

The airline said Thursday that a total of 1,300 flights to and from the London airports will be grounded during the 48-hour walkout on Tuesday and Wednesday.

BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said the carrier still hoped to reach an agreement with the Transport and General Workers union, but the contingency plans were necessary after talks between the two broke down earlier Thursday.

"If we postponed the cancellation of flights until the eve of a strike, customers would have virtually no time to make alternative arrangements," said Walsh, adding that more than 15,000 customers a day had contacted the airline since news of the strike broke.

"We remain absolutely determined to search for a negotiated settlement and our door remains open to the T&G, day or night," he added.

BA said that passengers affected by the strike will be able to claim a full refund, rebook their flight for a later date, or be rebooked by the airline onto another carrier.

Negotiations between the union, which represents about 11,000 of the airline's 14,000 cabin crew, on pay and sick leave policy fell apart with each blaming the other for the failure to reach agreement.

Further Walkouts Possible

The union has proposed further walkouts for Feb. 5-7 and Feb. 12-14 if the dispute is not resolved.

"The company has failed to hear the voice of common sense. This is a sad day for passengers and cabin crew alike," said Jack Dromey, deputy secretary-general of the union.

BA said it would fly some empty planes out of Heathrow on Monday and Tuesday to pick up passengers in other destinations, but warned of further cancellations on either side of the official strike dates because crew and aircraft will be out of position.

The airline has opened an extra call center, staffed by 100 workers, to deal with customer inquiries.

Analysts said the strike action could cost the airline between 10 million pounds and 15 million pounds ($20 million to $29.6 million) a day. British Airways shares fell 2.5% to close at 523 pence ($10.33) on the London Stock Exchange.

BA has struggled in recent years to prevent strike action. Last year, a walkout by staff at catering firm Gate Gourmet and BA ground workers during the peak August holiday season led to hundreds of canceled flights.

Earlier this month, the carrier pledged to pay a one-time cash contribution of 800 million pounds ($1.6 billion) plus annual contributions of 280 million pounds ($550 million) to help reduce its gaping 2.1 billion pound ($4.1 billion) pension fund deficit in a bid to avoid industrial action in a separate union dispute.