Thousands of BA Flights Canceled Due to Crew Strike

The start of a three-day strike by cabin crew at British Airways spurred chaos and passenger angst yesterday 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.

The strike will also affect BA travelers to and from Israel. BA afternoon flights to and from London to Ben-Gurion International Airport has been canceled, and tomorrow's flights may also be canceled. Yesterday's flights took off as scheduled, and today's morning flight was expected to as well.

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 yesterday and today, 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."