Ongoing British Airway Strike Leaves Passover Travelers Stranded

BA crew are disputing a pay freeze and changes to working conditions; thousands of flights canceled.

British Airways has canceled a flight from London to Ben-Gurion International Airport that was scheduled to depart Monday morning, the second London-Tel Aviv flight to be canceled since cabin crews began a strike Saturday to protest wage freezes and working conditions.

However, another scheduled morning flight to Israel will take off from London as planned, said Yael Katan, the British Airways commercial manager for Israel.

Katan said the airline is taking pains to accommodate ticket holders whose flights were canceled by arranging seats on other airlines. Passengers are also being offered alternative travel dates or full refunds.

Katan said she hoped crew members would not follow through on their threat to renew the strike on March 27, which falls two days before Passover begins and a week before Easter. An additional work stoppage would have a profound effect on the holiday travel season, when many pilgrims visit the Holy Land, Katan said.

The timing of the labor strife could prove highly damaging to the airline, which recently announced it would be reinstating its wide-body 777 Boeing jet for afternoon flights from Ben-Gurion to London effective March 28.

To mark the occasion, the British company is allowing business-class passengers who pay the full fare for flights in April to sit in first class either to or from London.

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

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

Yael Katan, the head of BA's Israel office told Haaretz that travelers on the company's Ben-Gurion-London flights had been given a number of alternatives, including changing their departure date, getting their money back and switching to another airline.

BA said it would handle as many as 49,000 passengers betwen Saturday and Sunday, compared with the average of 75,000.

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 of 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.

"This threatens the future of one of Britain's greatest companies along with thousands of jobs," Conservative leader David Cameron said. "Will the prime minister come out in support of those people who would cross the picket line? No - because the Unite union is bankrolling the Labour Party."