British Airways pilots’ support for the first day of a 48-hour strike was “virtually 100%”, their union has said, grounding most of the airline’s flights on Monday.
Members of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) have taken their first industrial action against the airline in a bitter dispute over pay.
No talks are planned to try to break the deadlocked row, and a further 24-hour walkout is planned for September 27.
Balpa said its members were “standing firm” in taking industrial action, which has led to the cancellation of more than 1,700 flights over the two days, affecting 195,000 passengers.
BA has offered a pay rise of 11.5% over three years but Balpa says its members want a bigger share of the company’s profits.
BA said in a statement: “We understand the frustration and disruption Balpa’s strike action has caused our customers. After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this.
“We remain ready and willing to return to talks with Balpa. Unfortunately, with no detail from Balpa on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly, so we had no option but to cancel nearly 100% of our flights.”
BA has spent weeks offering refunds to passengers or the option to rebook on another date of travel or an alternative airline.
Heathrow Airport was worst affected by the strike as it is the busiest hub for BA.
Both sides have said they want to resume talks, but there is little sign of the deadlock being broken.
Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “British Airways needs to wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard.
“They’ve previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits.
“Balpa has consistently offered up chances for the company to negotiate a way forward. British Airways must now put the needs of its staff and passengers first and accept that its pilots will not be bullied or fobbed off.
“The company’s leaders, who themselves are paid huge salaries and have generous benefits packages, won’t listen, are refusing to negotiate and are putting profits before the needs of passengers and staff.
“This strike will have cost the company considerably more than the investment needed to settle this dispute.
“It is time to get back to the negotiating table and put together a serious offer that will end this dispute.”
Balpa said the strike will cost BA £40 million a day, claiming the dispute could be settled for £5 million.
BA said its offer would take the pay of some captains to more than £200,000.
Chief executive Alex Cruz apologised to passengers for the disruption and insisted the airline had worked tirelessly to contact everyone affected by the strike to offer alternative arrangements.
He said: “I’m really sorry for the position the cynical actions of the pilots’ union has put us in. It’s by all accounts an own goal for the union.
“It’s going to punish customers, it’s going to punish our brand, it’s going to punish the rest of our colleagues – over 90% (of BA employees) have already accepted the 11.5% deal.
“It will also punish the pilots that want to come to work every day to make it the best airline in the world.”
The airline said that since Balpa issued the strike dates it has tripled the number of staff supporting customer contact teams.
Since August 23, when the strike dates were announced, BA said its expanded customer relations teams have received 111,000 tweets and 394,000 calls as they work to help customers make alternative arrangements including refunds, rebooking, and working with more than 50 other airlines to take their passengers.