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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BA Strike Causes Chaos at Heathrow

LONDON -- Shares in British Airways stumbled Monday after a wildcat strike at the heart of its London Heathrow operation forced Europe's biggest airline to scrap over 500 flights and disrupt more than 100,000 passengers.

The decision by about 250 ground crew to walk off the job at the weekend, over a new shift-monitoring system, raised fears that the airline's drive to cut costs and rebuild profits was starting to fan workplace unrest and harm customer relations.

"They've got to make sure they make the changes that they feel are necessary to run the business and they've got to rebuild customer goodwill, because it has been shot to pieces," independent aviation analyst Chris Tarry said.

British Airways stock fell 3.8 percent to a low of 168 pence in early trade, then recovered to stand at 174p at 11:05 a.m.

Analysts said initial market estimates that the airline stood to lose a day's revenue or about ?20 million ($32 million) could turn out to be too high as many of the flights canceled were for short distances and not lucrative long-haul flights.

BA, which has slashed more than 10,000 jobs to cope with the severe downturn in demand for long-distance air travel and to compete with the booming no-frills airlines in Europe, said management and union officials had begun talks at 9 a.m.

"There is going to be a series of meetings this morning," said Andrew Dodgshon, a spokesman for the Transport and General Workers Union, which claims to represent most BA staff. The union also said the strike had surprised union officials.

The agents who walked out were upset over a new identity card system, originally scheduled to be put in place Tuesday, that would electronically record their hours, the airline said. The system raised fears that some agents would have their hours cut when business was slow. Employees have also been unhappy about the airline's failure to negotiate a pay raise.

As many as 80,000 passengers were affected by the walkouts, which started when 250 British Airways counter agents left their jobs on Friday. Another 500 agents walked out on Saturday. More than 500 flights were canceled, leaving some passengers stranded at the airport during the weekend.

By Sunday night, Heathrow's Terminal 4, departure hub for many British Airways flights, was still not entirely back to normal. "There is clearly a backlog of passengers that were unable to make their flights," said Steve Double, a spokesman for the company. "The terminals are extremely busy, but we are close to running at a normal schedule."

Many travelers faced long waits over the weekend at Heathrow, the world's busiest international hub, many of them having slept an uncomfortable night on the airport's floor.

"I have never been treated like this in my life," said Joan Harkless, who had been stuck for 24 hours on Saturday night with her 9-year-old son after their flight to Cairo was canceled.

BA said it was hoping to operate close to a full schedule Monday at Heathrow.

"There is still a large backlog of more than 1,000 passengers from services canceled over the weekend," BA said in a statement.

BA said it was too early to estimate the cost of the strike.

(Reuters, NYT)