On the eve of the biggest strike in its history, British Airways has urged passengers hit by the walk-out not to go to the airport.
Members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) working for BA voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay.
They will walk out on Monday and Tuesday, 9 and 10 September, with plans for a single day’s stoppage on Friday 27 September.
British Airways has grounded almost all the 1,600-plus flights due to operate to and from Heathrow and Gatwick over the first two days.
The airline’s plan is to fly almost the normal Sunday schedule, with only a handful of cancellations planned including a single departure from Heathrow to New York JFK and Gatwick flights to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Jersey.
Aircraft serving to long-haul destinations – and also some European cities – will remain on the ground at foreign airports over Monday and Tuesday, alleviating the problem of a lack of space for grounded planes at Heathrow and Gatwick.
The Independent has been able to identify only two routes where BA flights will operate: Gatwick to New York JFK, which is currently operated by a third-party airline, Evelop; and an inbound service from Sydney via Singapore.
British Airways has transferred most of the estimated 240,000 passengers booked on strike-hit flights to other services, either on its own aircraft on other days or those of around 50 other carriers.
But BA has declined to rebook passengers on easyJet flights, even though for many travellers the budget airline is the obvious alternative.
One elderly passenger whose flight from Canada to Heathrow was cancelled says she was rerouted via the US but not informed she needed to apply for an American Esta – the online permit required even for transit passengers.
She tweeted Air Canada from Victoria in British Columbia to say: “I’m a 75-year-old stranded in Victoria, BC. Flight tomorrow cancelled due to the BA strike. BA rebooked me Victoria-Seattle-LHR but didn’t explain I needed a US visa to transit via Seattle.
“Refused boarding at Victoria today, now stranded. Can you help get me home?”
British Airways is telling passengers: “We’re extremely sorry for the problems caused by the strike action called by the pilots’ union, Balpa, on 9, 10 and 27 September.
“We proposed an offer of 11.5 per cent over three years to Balpa, a deal already accepted by members of the Unite and GMB unions, which represent 90 per cent of British Airways’ staff, a deal which we believe is fair.”
“If your flight is cancelled, please do not go to the airport.”
BA says that the pilots’ union negotiating team shook on a deal on 12 August but then backtracked.
Balpa disputes the 11.5 per cent figure. It has put forward a new proposal in a letter to the airline’s chief executive, Alex Cruz. It was rejected by BA, which says: “We continue to be available for constructive talks with Balpa, on the basis that there are no pre-conditions to those talks.”
Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, said: “Our members’ resolve is very strong and they remain very angry with BA, but they also want to leave no stone unturned in trying to find a resolution to their dispute.
“Avoiding strike action and agreeing a deal with their pilots surely must be the desired outcome for British Airways.
The airline is expected to withdraw staff travel concessions from striking flight crew. A significant number of BA pilots live away from London and use the discount scheme to fly to and from work.
The first two-day stoppage is expected to cost British Airways around £100m in lost revenue and additional costs.