British Airways was forced to cancel almost all flights for Monday and Tuesday after its pilots went on strike for the first time in the airline's history.

In a statement Monday, the airline said it had “no way of predicting how many (pilots) would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly.”

Heathrow Terminal 5, Bristish Airway's main hub, was deserted, when it would normally be bustling with passengers. The strike is estimated to affect around 200,000 pasengers.

British Airways planes grounded due to strike
British Airways planes have been grounded due to pilot strike

It is the first time British Airway's pilots have walked out and the action could cost the airline up to £40m a day. Some 4,000 pilots are involved in the strike. 

Affected passengers were told weeks in advance that their flights may be cancelled. The airline has been offering refunds to passengers or the option to re-book to another date of travel or an alternative airline.

Passengers are not entitled to cash compensation under European air passengers' rights rules, but are offered three choices – cancellation for a full refund, rebooking onto another flight or travel on a different date. British Airways says passengers could claim back costs such as accommodation or food and drink while waiting at the airport.

British Airways Plane sits waiting for strike to end (1)

The departure board shows only 10 British Airways flights leaving for the entire day. The cafes are pretty much deserted too, and the taxi rank has been growing in size, with no passengers to pick up. The strike is clearly having a big effect on all businesses who depend on the airline. 

Union leader Brian Strutton said pilots are determined to be heard. British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) says its members want a bigger share of the company's profits. The union accuses British Airway's of making massive profits at the expense of workers who made sacrifices during hard times.

"They've previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits."

Brian Strutton - Union Leader

While British Airways was criticised as customers initially struggled to get through to call centres and some were wrongly advised their flights were cancelled, the airline said it had fielded almost 400,000 calls to help customers. 

"We understand the frustration and disruption BALPA's strike action has caused our customers. After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this."

British Airways Statement

If British Airways and the BALPA don't come to an agreement in the next few weeks, another strike is scheduled for 27 September.

With sources from CBC news

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