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World News

March 20, 2010

Thousands of BA flights canceled as crew on strike

LONDON (AP) — Retiree Richard Moore arrived at Heathrow with a suitcase of summer clothes for a Miami cruise only to be sent to Denver. Susan Danby wondered if plans for a joint 50th birthday celebration in Las Vegas would be a losing bet.

The start of a three-day strike by cabin crew at British Airways spurred chaos and passenger angst on Saturday as union members promised more airline and rail walkouts in the coming weeks as Britain prepares for a hotly contested general election.

"This is our dream trip, we booked it last August and we've been planning it for years," said Danby, who was still hoping to get to Las Vegas with her friends. "We all want more money and better conditions, but people shouldn't ruin other people's holidays."

BA's cabin crew are disputing a pay freeze and changes to working conditions. Their Unite union also says BA didn't inform it of cost-cutting plans.

BA said it would handle as many as 49,000 passengers on both Saturday and Sunday. That compares with the average 75,000 for a normal weekend day in March. At its Heathrow base, more than 60 percent of long-haul flights were operating, but only 30 percent of short-haul. At Gatwick, all long-haul flights and more than half short-haul flights were running as normal, as were flights from London City airport, including flights to New York.

The public backlash is bad news for Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party, which relies heavily on funding from the country's labor unions, and a gift for the main opposition Conservative Party, which is leading opinion polls ahead of a general election due within weeks.

Brown has been stuck between a rock and a hard place, angering Unite — which has contributed some 11 million pounds ($16.5 million) to Labour in recent years — for criticizing the strike action, while at the same time facing criticism from the Conservatives for allegedly bowing to the union.

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