Originally created 07/11/97

British Airways charters strike-busting crews



LONDON (AP) - British Airways canceled hundreds of flights Thursday but struggled through the second day of a flight attendants' strike with help from charter jets and crews from other airlines.

"You can call them strike-busters - we call them a way to get customers from A to B, and customers are our priority," British Airways spokesman Jamie Bowden said.

With many of its own jets idled at London's Heathrow Airport, British Airways called in 10 outside airplanes from charter operators and the British Airways German subsidiary, Deutsche BA, Bowden said.

Tens of thousands of passengers have been stranded by the strike, which was called over a pay dispute and scheduled for three days, ending early Saturday.

The British Airways operations manager, Michael Street, told a news conference that "we have chartered everything we possibly could."

The top official at the flight attendants union, George Ryde, played down the impact of the chartered airplanes, saying the walkout had received "solid support" from the British Airways workers.

The 8,500-member British Association of Stewards and Stewardesses Association is striking over a pay offer that union leaders say would hurt the workers economically.

The company has offered a higher base pay, but wants to impose work rules the union contends would lower flight attendants' overall compensation.

The walkout is costing British Airways millions, but the company says it needs concessions worth $70 million a year from the flight attendants.

British Airways has vowed to keep increasing the number of flights it operates during the strike, with 3,500 members of a breakaway union, Cabin Crew 89, crossing the picket lines.

The carrier said it had to cancel 147 flights scheduled to leave Heathrow and the No. 2 London airport, Gatwick, on Thursday. There were an unspecified but similar number of cancellations of flights that would have flown into the two airports.

Still, British Airways said its services increased by about 25 percent on Thursday compared with Wednesday, and it planned a similar boost on Friday.

TransAer, an Irish charter carrier, operated at least one of the jets that helped British Airways fight back.

"There is a lot of sympathy for the BA cabin crew," said George Baczkowski, a TransAer captain who had just flown a round trip to Geneva. "But it is not our dispute and at the end of the day the passenger comes first."

Baczkowski is a member of the British Airline Pilots Association, but that union had not told members to honor the picket lines, he said.

The dispute left many air travelers caught in the middle.

Dick and Marian Lewis were planning to fly home to Phoenix, but learned Thursday they would get stuck for 24 hours in Vancouver, Canada.

Lewis said airline employees at Heathrow had been helpful, however.

"We're just sorry they happened to have picked the three days we needed to go on strike," he said.