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British airlines want reimbursement

Stephen Beard Aug 15, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Passengers aren’t happy. Airlines aren’t either. British airports are still trying to catch up from last week. Thousands of flights have been canceled because of tighter security. Airlines have had to get hotel rooms for all those passengers. In some cases hire buses to take them to Paris or Hamburg or wherever they were supposed to fly. That can get expensive. And a couple of airlines are looking for help footing the bill. More now from Marketplace’s Stephen Beard in London.

STEPHEN BEARD: Hundreds of flights have not taken off. Airline losses have. They are believed to be soaring. There are no precise figures yet, but analysts say we could be talking several hundred million dollars.

British Airways, Virgin and other carriers are calling on the main airport operator, BAA, to pick up some of the tab. They accuse the company of exacerbating the delays which caused the cancellations. They say BAA doesn’t have enough staff to carry out the extra security procedures.

The company has let the airlines down, says Virgin’s Paul Charles:

PAUL CHARLES: They have a duty, obviously, to supply an efficient service at each airport. I think the airlines, quite rightly, will be asking themselves from today, have they received that efficient service?

The airlines’ answer is a resounding no. The boss of British Airways said the situation at Heathrow was like “a bad dream at Disneyland.” But BAA’s chief executive Stephen Nelson said his company had done a splendid job in the circumstances:

STEPHEN NELSON: This is the biggest security crisis in aviation history in this country. We are still working through these new restrictions. But I do expect us to be on an improving trend over the next couple of days.

He says the need to vet and train new employees means that more security staff could not be deployed immediately. But a senior union official and a former executive at Heathrow both claimed that in the scramble to cut costs, Britain’s aviation industry has skimped on security.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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