British Airways canceled most flights for Monday and Tuesday after its pilots went on strike over their demand for higher pay, upending the travel plans of about 195,000 passengers.
The pilots’ union said its members would not return to work for 48 hours after starting the job action at midnight Monday, prompting the latest of several cancellations that British Airways has had to manage in recent months amid a simmering labor standoff.
Terminal 5 at Heathrow in London, a British Airways hub, was deserted on Monday, according to British media reports, a sign that the airline had prepared for the possibility of a walkout. British Airlines said it had contacted customers two weeks ago to offer a choice of alternative flights on British Airways planes or with different airlines, or full refunds.
“After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this,” British Airways said in an emailed statement on Monday.
The airline said it had canceled 1,700 flights that had been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, with no detail from B.A.L.P.A. 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 percent of our flights,” the airline added, referring to the British Airline Pilots’ Association.
British Airways had offered pilots salary increases totaling 11.5 percent over three years, a proposal that pilots who belong to two other unions had accepted. The average captain earns about 167,000 pounds, or about $205,000, a year and the proposed raise would take them to more than £200,000 a year, according to the airline.
Most of the carrier’s 3,900 pilots belong to the British Airline Pilots Association, which say that its members have had to take pay cuts and that British Airways has declined to entertain counteroffers.
The pay increase demanded by the British Airways pilots would cost the airline £5 million, or about $6 million, a relatively small amount given the £4 million-a-day cost of a strike and the company’s roughly £2 billion a year in profits, the pilots argue.
“They’ve previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times,” Brian Strutton, the union’s general secretary, said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
The two sides have been negotiating since November, and the dispute has already led to frustration among customers.
In August, British Airways emailed passengers to tell them that flights would be canceled because of a planned pilot strike. The airline then contacted passengers hours later to say it had made a mistake with regard to when the strike would affect flights.
The admission came too late for passengers who had already made alternative plans. Many expressed outrage over what they felt was the inadequate support they had gotten from customer service representatives for the airline.
The pilots’ union has voted to strike again on Sep. 27 if the dispute has not been resolved by then.