British Airways Strike Could Have Long-Lasting Impact

The last of the 70,000 travellers stranded by last week's wildcat strike at Heathrow airport are finally getting off the ground. But the British Airway's caterer that triggered the dispute is still locked in talks with labor union leaders. And the financial damage to Britain's flagship carrier could be far-reaching.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The business news starts with the trouble at British Airways. The last of 70,000 travelers are finally getting off the ground after being stranded by last week's strike at Heathrow Airport in London. But the British Airways caterers who triggered this dispute are still in talks with union leaders, and the financial damage to Britain's flag carrier could be far-reaching as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from London.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

British Airways said the last stranded travelers now have confirmed bookings to make it out of London by Thursday, more than a week after the strike began. Baggage handlers are forwarding on some 5,000 pieces of luggage still stuck at the airport.

The problem started last Wednesday when US-owned caterer Gate Gourmet sacked several hundred employees who had launched a wildcat strike. BA baggage handlers and ground crews then walked off their jobs in sympathy. Gate Gourmet has so far refused to reinstate all of the fired workers and remains in mediated talks with the Transport and General Workers' Union. Tony Woodley is the union's general secretary.

Mr. TONY WOODLEY (Transport and General Workers' Union): Right now there's a third party who haven't been involved in these discussions, and that's British Airways. You know, these are the pipers that's calling the tune, playing the tune at the end of the day, and we're now needing to have a discussion with both them and Gate Gourmet.

KUHN: The strikes themselves barely lasted two days, but industry analysts say they may have cost BA over $70 million, including the cost of compensating passengers and putting them up in hotels.

BA successfully fought off the adverse effects of 9/11 and soaring fuel costs. It's protected its turf against discount carriers by offering the services to business travelers which its competitors had eliminated.

BA insists that it was caught between the caterers and the unions, but it was clearly paying the price of outsourcing services to companies which it has no control over. It's the third year in a row that BA has suffered wildcat strikes at the height of the tourist season, dealing another heavy blow to its reputation.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, London.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: