BA 'worst UK airline for cancellations'

British Airways (BA) is currently the worst national carrier in Europe for cancellations, it was claimed today.

The airline has scrapped one in 50 of its flights to and from its hub airport (Heathrow) this year, worse than its biggest rivals KLM, Air France and Lufthansa, according to tomorrow night’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4.

BA said rivals had much greater spare runway capacity at their home airports and also defended its record over other claims in the programme.

Dispatches received information from Dutch-based Hendrik Noorderhaven, who monitors aircraft movements and helps people claim compensation.

He said: “From the legacy airlines (national carriers) we’ve been monitoring in Europe they’re the worst at the moment.”

He said the 6.35pm flight to Frankfurt has been cancelled 27 times this year.

When passengers seek compensation they are often refused on the grounds that there have been “extraordinary circumstances”, under which airlines do not have to pay out, the programme said.

Mr Noorderhaven added: “Your national carrier British Airways claims over and over almost any complaint that you send in that there was a shortage of crew.

“Come on guys. You have statistics in your company. If there is a shortage of crew then you have to hire more people.”

The programme also says that “your chances of seeing your luggage on the carousel when you arrive are worse than any other European airline”.

It adds: “Since 2006, it has mislaid about 2.5 million items of luggage, that’s one for every 40 passengers.”

When BA cannot find owners for the bags, it sends them to auction and the proceeds go to charity.

The programme found a man called Sam Adade who buys them and takes them to a shed in Croydon.

Sam repacks the clothes and sells them in Ghana, the programme says.

The interviewer points out that these are things that people have bought for their holidays.

“That is the attractiveness about buying from the unclaimed baggage, because they are good quality stuff,” Sam says.

A BA spokesman said today: “We operate more than 250,000 flights a year, looking after more than 30 million customers.

“Despite having one of the most congested airports in the world as our home base, we achieved a 10% operating margin last year – a record for the airline and well ahead of comparable network carriers.”

On cancellations, he said: “It is not surprising that Lufthansa, Air France and KLM had a slightly lower percentage of cancellations than British Airways in 2007 and the early part of 2008 as they enjoy much greater spare runway capacity at their home airports.

“Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Amsterdam operate at 75 to 80% of capacity and have four or five runways. Heathrow has only two and operates at 99% capacity.”

On the Frankfurt flight, he said: “The BA914 from Heathrow to Frankfurt operates at 1835 and we have another flight to Frankfurt 75 minutes later. In between, Lufthansa has a service to Frankfurt to which we can switch customers without extra charge.

“Up to the end of March this year, the BA914 was sometimes subject to cancellation because there was a risk that the aircraft, on its return from Frankfurt to Heathrow, would arrive late and breach the night flight ban. This ban is very much in the interests of residents around Heathrow and we take it very seriously.

“For summer 2008 we rescheduled the BA914 and its return, the BA915, to avoid the risk of breaching the night ban – and recent reliability and punctuality of this flight has been strong.”

On compensation, he said: “We are not hiding behind the phrase ’extraordinary circumstances’. Of our cancellations so far in 2008, the majority have been due to poor weather, airport or air traffic restrictions or aircraft technical faults.”

As to crew shortages: “When there is unforeseen operational disruption because of bad weather or air traffic control problems, staff can quickly go ’out of hours’ which means that they are not available for later duties for which they have been rostered. The cause of this situation is outside British Airways’ control and can leave us with a temporary shortage of cabin crew.”

On baggage, he said: “Our move to Terminal 5 has hugely improved performance overall, as we said it would. This summer has seen the number of delayed bags almost halve compared with summer 2007.”

And as to bags that are auctioned, he said: “We make exhaustive efforts to match them, and auction them for charity. We take out anything personal from the bags.”

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