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The deserted airport

BA claims most flights still took off during the cabin crew strike. But our reporter at Heathrow isn't buying it

March 30, 2010
3 min read

It was rush hour on Tuesday morning, but the four staff at Heathrow terminal five tube station ticket office had nothing to do.

Only one would-be passenger was using any of the three ticket machines.

A tube worker said: “It’s been like this for the past three days.

“We were just saying among ourselves – ‘how can they say the strike is having no effect?’

“There is usually a queue.”

Transport for London weren’t the only ones feeling the pinch on the fourth day of the second strike this month by BA cabin crew – members of the Unite union battling to defend their working conditions.

In the arrivals area of terminal five, which only handles BA flights, there was only one shopper being served in Marks and Spencer – and none in WHSmith.

There were no queues and ten free tables at Costa Coffee.

Upstairs, in the departure area, none of the baggage drop off points had a queue of more than three people – except one in the more expensive club class section, which had six.

In the departures area – before passengers go through security – there were no customers in one branch of WHSmith and just two in the other.

There was no-one in Accessorize, no-one in the Vodafone shop, and three staff with one browsing customer in Boots.

A shopkeeper who had some browsers but no buyers said: “We are quiet because of the strike. Usually it is much busier.”

According to the big airport information signs, all flights were scheduled to leave. But there was no queue at the security scanners.

One lost passenger said her BA flight to Manchester had been cancelled and she had been told to take a BMI plane from another terminal.

A last check of the arrivals area shops showed there were still no customers in Smiths. Marks and Spencer didn’t even have anyone on the tills.

The tube train out of terminal five of the self-proclaimed “world’s busiest airport” had no passengers in the first carriage, two in the second, and one in the third.

At terminal three BA operates flights to a small number of destinations including Bangkok and Madrid. The BA bag drop-off points had seven staff and no customers. Ten minutes later they had six staff and three customers.

Meanwhile – also in terminal three – Virgin had nine baggage drop-off points open with queues of between eight and 23 people at each one.

Whatever BA says, this was clearly nothing like a normal day.

Outside the airport, near Hatton Cross tube station, striking cabin crew workers and their supporters danced and sang along as “I Will Survive” belted out of their ghetto-blaster.

Passing drivers tooted their support, and strikers waved placards and blew whistles in response.

After seven days on strike, spirits were still high.

More stoppages will almost certainly be needed to defeat BA’s macho boss Willie Walsh – maybe even an all-out strike.

BA cabin crew can be reassured that if that happens the rest of the labour movement will raise money to support and sustain them.

If they successfully defend their hard-won terms and conditions, it will give confidence to all workers facing attacks from bosses who are using the recession as an excuse to put the squeeze on.

Text messages of support can be sent to 07850 905787, or emailed, with requests for speakers or more information, to office@bassa.co.uk

BA strikers demonstrating at Manchester airport can be contacted c/o clareowens at btinternet.com

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