British Airways Flying Lots of Empty Seats After Strike Canceled

British Airways PLC operated a full flying schedule Tuesday after cabin crew called off a planned strike, but the averted walkout will still prove costly for the airline because an 11th-hour deal with the union came too late for most passengers to reinstate their travel plans.

B.A.A said it flew only one-third of its average daily 77,000 passengers from Heathrow and Gatwick.

The airline had announced last week that it was canceling all flights to and from Heathrow and several more in and out of Gatwick on Tuesday and Wednesday to give passengers time to prepare for the planned 48-hour walkout by cabin crew staff in a dispute over pay, pensions and sick leave entitlements.

BA offered passengers the opportunity to receive a refund, rebook their flights for a later date, or switch to another carrier when flights were available.

Analysts said those remedies, and flying empty planes, could cost BA up to $40 million - two-thirds the cost many had anticipated if the strike had gone ahead.

"Whilst BA expects to fly a full service, given the late hour at which this agreement was reached, we'd expect minimal revenue recovery this week," said brokerage Collins Stewart.

Scores of BA staff drafted in to help deal with any disruption were left watching rows and rows of empty check-in desks at Heathrow.

BA spokesman Patrick Spink said that flights were operating normally despite a dearth of passengers, but some services did not have full catering because of the last minute arrangements. Passengers were instead given vouchers to buy food at the terminal before boarding.

Spink said the airline did not yet have any estimates for the cost of the disruption.

He said that an extra 2,000 people had booked flights with the airline for travel on Tuesday since it announced late Monday that the strike had been called off. Spink denied suggestions that BA had deliberately slashed fares to attract new customers, saying cheaper flights were available because the booking system had been effectively cleared when the airline canceled all the flights last week.

Negotiators from the Transport & General Workers Union and BA spent the weekend thrashing out an agreement to avert the strike. The union also called off two further 72-hour walkouts it had planned for early February after the carrier agreed to wage increases and new standards on sick leave.

BA shares gained 1.9 percent to 552 pence ($10.83) on the London Stock Exchange.

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