Airfares jump 2100 per cent during strike
BRITISH Airways has cancelled almost all flights departing and arriving into the UK, as the airline's first pilots' strike began, sparking travel chaos for tens of thousands of passengers.
The industrial action by members of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) trade union follows around nine months of failed talks.
The carrier, owned by London-listed International Airlines Group (IAG) and which operates about 850 flights per day in Britain, said it had no option but to cancel nearly all scheduled flights.
On the first day of the strike, 145,000 passengers faced cancelled international and domestic flights mainly at London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
BA chief executive Alex Cruz called for talks to continue.
"We urge the union to please sit down with us as quickly as we can so that we can reach an agreement," he told the BBC.
There were very few passengers milling around the departure area at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 in west London, AFP photos showed.
Blue screens displayed a message saying BA was "deeply sorry" for the "large number" of cancellations at T5, home to its British operations.
"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 per cent of our flights," British Airways said in a statement.
The airline stressed it remained willing to return to talks but the union - which is seeking a bigger share of company profits - accused BA of not wanting to negotiate.
"We understand the frustration and disruption BALPA's strike action has caused our customers," BA added.
"After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this."
BA and its 4300 pilots have been locked in a dispute that could disrupt the travel plans of nearly 300,000 people over the two days.
According to CNN, the cancellations have also pushed up prices to destinations around the world by up to 2100 per cent, leaving the UK isolated amid sold-out routes and stratospherically priced flights.
A return flight this week from London to Nice, in the south of France, costs as much as £1272 ($A2228) for less than two hours in the air. That was the price offered on Monday morning for an easyJet flight departing London Gatwick on Monday evening and returning on Wednesday morning. Returning Tuesday cost a little less at £1055 ($A1900).
British Airways is selling return fares to Nice on other dates in September for £58 (A104) - making this week's flights nearly 22 times as expensive.
Pilots are also threatening to strike for one more day on September 27 and then possibly again closer to the winter holidays - should the dispute drag on.
BALPA has rejected a pay increase of 11.5 per cent over three years that the airline proposed in July.
BA says under the offer flight captains would receive "world-class" pay and benefits of around £200,000 ($A360,000) a year.
The airline also pointed out two other unions representing 90 per cent of its workers had accepted the 11.5 per cent raise.
BALPA boss Brian Strutton also apologised for the travel chaos - but defended the historic industrial action and blamed the company for failing to negotiate.
"We are very sorry for all the disruption that's been caused by the industrial action," he told the BBC.
"I think British Airways took the decision some weeks ago that they would close down the airline operation and it's up to them to do things that way."
BALPA points to a nearly 10 per cent jump in pre-tax profits reported by BA parent IAG last year.
"We are prepared to negotiate. We are prepared to move on our position, but so far British Airways has said to me: We are not going to budge," Mr Strutton said.
Nearing the close of trading, IAG's share price was down 1.23 per cent at 424.8 pence on London's benchmark FTSE 100 index, which was down 0.8 per cent overall.
Independent aviation analyst John Strickland said the union had not acknowledged how BA had been forced to embrace radical change in the face of fierce competition.
"BA pilots are striking, on the face of it, about pay but terms and conditions come into it too," Mr Strickland told AFP.
"They express concern about how BA is being run while not acknowledging just how radically the marketplace has changed for the airline in recent years, with more intense and diverse competition of all kinds from low-cost to premium offers."