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Strike-hit BA flying into turbulence

London

BRITISH Airways (BA) flew into turbulence this week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation, analysts said on Wednesday.

Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's chequered 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud - which remains unresolved - over pay.

Management at BA, owned by London-listed International Airlines Group (IAG), then faced the embarrassment of grounding its UK fleet on Monday and Tuesday with the cancellation of around 1,600 flights. The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

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Yet BA's reputation will bounce back if it handles the industrial unrest in an effective way, according to Jane Bloomfield, who is head of business development at Kantar UK. However, if mishandled, the row could still spark more reputational damage for BA, which adopted "the world's favourite airline" as its tagline in a famous 1997 advertising campaign.

"It is absolutely possible for a brand to recover from such issues and events," Ms Bloomfield told AFP. "Timely and effective management of PR will be absolutely essential for BA. Mismanagement and poor communication may amplify the problem further and damage a brand well beyond the short term."

Travellers were meanwhile offered full refunds, or bookings on alternative dates or flights with a different airline. But the disruption continued on Wednesday because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place. The 4,000 members of BA cabin crew also faced similar chaos due to their scheduled working hours, which are limited by law.

"We are working hard to get back to normal and to get our customers to their destinations," a BA spokesman said on Wednesday. "The nature of our highly complex, global operation means that it will take some time to get back to a completely normal flight schedule."

As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately 10 per cent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain on Wednesday.

The walkout is by members of the British Airline Pilots Association trade union, whose members want a bigger share of profits. AFP