THE
trade has hit out at British Airways for throwing the start of the summer
holiday season into disarray.

Angry
agents and operators were stunned the flag carrier couldn’t prevent wildcat
strikes that left thousands of passengers stranded at Heathrow on Friday July
18 – one of the most important dates in the calendar due to the start of the
school holidays.

Staff
walked out over the introduction of a new swipecard entry system to log start
and finish times.

The
trade is also fuming at the lack of communication from BA and is demanding to
know how it will compensate them and their passengers.

In
another setback, two bombs planted by Basque separatist group ETA rocked Benidorm
and Alicante last week.

TUI
UK managing director Chris Mottershead issued a plea for calm as the Foreign
Office warned UK visitors to Spain to be vigilant.

ABTA
president and Travelscene sales director John Harding said of the BA affair:
“To allow this to happen, knowing it was going to affect the peak summer
departures, was badly considered to say the least. Why couldn’t they have
delayed the change until a rainy weekday in October?”

Agents
were forced to spend the weekend handling irate calls from customers and
rebooking or refunding clients. Many were forced to do this without a clear
picture of what was happening because of a lack of information from the
airline.

Travel
Trust Association director Todd Carpenter said the first contact he had with BA
was an e-mail received on Monday July 21.

ABTA
aviation chief Sandy MacPherson said BA would have to compensate agents for the
extra work.

“The
question is, who is going to pay for the additional costs? Rebooking
passengers, dealing with people who want to reroute and refunding others all
costs the agent money,” he said.

BA
is believed to be considering launching a temporary agent incentive scheme to
try to prevent a slump in bookings. Rivals Virgin and EasyJet claim to have
benefited from BA’s problems, while customers at MacPherson’s Voyager Travel
agency have asked not to fly with BA.

“We
said there could come a day when BA needs the trade and this appears to be it,
but the airline may rue the way it has treated travel agents in recent years,”
MacPherson said.

BA
chief executive Rod Eddington issued a public apology to the thousands of
passengers whose travel plans were disrupted.

More
than 400 long and short-haul flights were cancelled and long delays continued
until late last week.