Grin and bear it

As soon as I arrived at Heathrow airport this afternoon and saw the lines of TV trucks, I knew things did not look good.

Over the past 24 hours, the news has been full of reports of the cancellation of all British Airways flights out of Heathrow. My flight back to Amsterdam isn’t until 8pm tonight. But I’m not going anywhere today – that flight is among those cancelled.

So, I’m stranded in the UK at least for the next 24 hours. Luckily I have family not far from the airport, so a welcome opportunity to spend some time with them. I have a re-booking on a flight tomorrow, although BA can’t guarantee that the flight will actually depart.

My trip’s short – it’s just a 40-minute flight to Amsterdam – so the affects for me are mostly a lot of inconvenience. Imagine what it must be like for anyone traveling longer distances with connections to make, especially if you have a family. Indeed, this is the height of the holiday season when lots of families go on holiday. From what I saw at Terminal 4 this afternoon, there were hundreds of very disappointed people.

I spoke to a number of BA staff, all very helpful indeed but who didn’t know much about what was going on or when there might be a solution. They were handing a out a letter to all passengers signed by Declan Pollard, Customer Service Manager, which contained this brief description of what was behind the flight cancellations:

[…] The suspension of all British Airways’ Heathrow flights yesterday afternoon as a result of unofficial industrial action by staff from catering company Gate Gourmet. This unofficial action spread to some British Airways ground staff.

Gate Gourmet issued an undated statement on their website – which places the responsibility for flight cancellations squarely on BA:

We must emphasize that the disruptions in British Airways’ flight schedules are due to actions by BA’s workforce. The decision to curtail service was a decision made by British Airways management.

So no shared communication goals here between BA and their catering supplier where Gate Gourmet look like they would like to see a separation of issues here. It will be interesting to see how this aspect of the situation develops from the PR point of view. The worst thing for both companies wuld be a public squabble, but I can’t imagine that will happen.

Incidentally, it always amuses me to hear strikes described at ‘industrial action.’ More like ‘industrial inaction’ 🙂

From what I saw at Heathrow this afternoon, many travellers seemed to be taking it all in their stride. Two couples I spoke to outside the terminal building (one American, the other South African) shrugged their shoulders philosophically as if to say "shit happens" even though they had no idea yet what they would do. That’s the spirit!

It really is amazing how the actions of a small group of people – those who have gone on strike – can have such tremendous affects on many thousands of other people. And there really is nothing you can do to influence or change such a situation – you are caught up in circumstances wholly outside your control.

Other than buying a flight with a different airline or seeking some other form of transportation, to grin and bear it is not a bad approach to it all. Good for the blood pressure at least.

One thought on “Grin and bear it

  1. Grin and bear it indeed. A friend of mine just told me a story about a strike on South African airlines a few weeks ago that prevented him from flying direct from Washington D.C. to Johannesburg. After two days of false starts on this side of the pond with promises that the flight would leave, him and his wife finally booked other airlines through Amsterdam and Paris in order to get to their final destination. South African Airlines agreed to pick up the tab for the extra flights. Luckily they had a couple of days with nothing happening prior to their first scheduled excursion so they made it just in time. I always take are travel for granted, but with all the economic strife (ie. Delta, Northwest, U.S. Air) for airlines these days you just never know.

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