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BA upbeat despite second strike by cabin crew

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British Airways flight plans
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • British Airways says it was able to operate flights as normal at two London airports
  • Airline says it can fly more than 75 percent of customers scheduled to travel
  • BA cabin crew members in dispute over pay and working conditions
  • Airline and Unite union have been at odds for more than a year over planned changes

London, England (CNN) -- British Airways said its operations got off to a good start Saturday despite a second consecutive strike by thousands of its cabin crew members.

The airline said it was able to operate flights as normal at two London airports, Gatwick and City, and that the number of crew members reporting for work at Heathrow -- Britain's busiest airport -- was enough to operate its planned schedule.

"We have got off to a good start," the airline said in a statement.

The crews walked out at midnight Friday in a strike set to last for four days. They staged a three-day walkout last weekend.

BA said enough staff had crossed the picket lines that it was able to fly more than 75 percent of customers scheduled to travel during the strike. Another 18 percent of passengers are booked to fly on other carriers or have changed their travel dates to avoid the strike.

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The Unite union, which represents 95 percent of BA's 15,000 cabin crew, said it was too early say how many crew members worked despite the strike.

At Heathrow's Terminal 5, which is used primarily by British Airways, things appeared to be running smoothly Saturday and long-haul passengers who spoke to CNN seemed largely unaffected.

"It's been fine from Seattle, (Washington) and I hope it will be fine going back to Seattle," passenger Don Dewar said.

Ravi Erukulabatn said his mother-in-law was still scheduled to fly to Hyderabad, India.

"She is flying on her own, so we were a bit anxious to begin with, bur fortunately it is happening as expected," he told CNN.

The airline said it will be able to run a full operation from London's Gatwick and City airports. At Heathrow, BA will be able to run up to 55 percent of its short-haul flights and up to 70 percent of its long-haul flights, the airline said.

To help operate as many flights as possible, BA is leasing planes, pilots and crews from six airlines, BA said. It is also using volunteers from other areas of the company to stand in for striking cabin crew.

BA handed a statement to passengers on some long-haul flights, reassuring them the airline's own staff was working on board.

"British Airways pilots will be flying your aircraft and you will be cared for in the cabin by British Airways staff," the statement read. "Some of these staff in the cabin may be additional pilots who have volunteered to look after you, and as such will be wearing their pilot uniforms."

"Some of these staff in the cabin may be additional pilots who have volunteered to look after you.
--BA statement
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Pauline Doyle, a spokeswoman for Unite, said having pilots standing in as flight attendants "undermines" the relationship between cabin crew and pilots.

BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh had threatened last week to take away the travel perks, which might have been one reason some union staff agreed to work despite the strike last weekend.

Striking staff stripped of perks

He said the travel perks are not in the crews' contracts and can be withdrawn at the airline's discretion.

The union representing the striking workers called the move "vindictive" and said restoring those perks must be part of any deal to end the strike.

"The withdrawal of travel concessions from crew who have been on strike represents unacceptable anti-union bullying," Unite joint leaders Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley wrote in a letter to members. "Any agreement to end this dispute must and will include a framework for the full restoration of those travel concessions."

Other carriers are offering to accommodate BA passengers affected by the strike. British carrier BMI, which flies to Europe and the Middle East, said Friday it had added 4,500 seats to its normal Heathrow flight schedule and Ryanair offered special fares to BA passengers.

British Airways and Unite have been at odds for more than a year over changes the airline wants to make to cabin crew pay and work practices.

BA says the changes will save the company more than 60 million pounds ($90 million) a year. Unite has said the plans, which call for longer work hours and less staffing, will damage customer service and the BA brand.

Stock analysts have said BA has made clear it sees the action not only as a matter of money but who will run the airline -- management or the union.

Unite said Friday the two strikes will cost British Airways about £100 million ($149 million), double what BA estimated earlier in the week.