British Airways has won a legal battle at London's High Court brought in a last-ditch attempt to avert strikes by cabin crew.
The airline, facing mounting chaos because of the industrial dispute coupled with the volcanic ash cloud, went to court to urge a judge to grant an injunction blocking the strikes, due to start on Tuesday. Mr Justice McCombe granted the order against the union, Unite.
BA said: "We are delighted for our customers that Unite's plans for extreme and unjustified strike action cannot go ahead. We are sorry the court judgment cannot undo the disruption already suffered by some customers who were due to travel during the early days of the union's industrial action.
"As Unite knew, we had to announce last Thursday the rearrangement of our Heathrow schedule to give customers as much notice as possible about changes to their travel plans necessitated by the strike call.
"Ash disruption permitting, we will aim to restore a full flying programme at Heathrow by the weekend. We will also offer a full programme at Gatwick and London City, as planned."
BA argued that Unite had not "properly complied" with the requirement to "send everyone eligible to vote details of the exact breakdown of the ballot result" and that, as a result, the strike action was "unlawful".
While expressing sympathy for the union and its members, the judge said: "I am unable to say it is sufficiently clear that the union took the steps required by law at the time they were required."
He said the "balance of convenience" in his view required the granting of an injunction.
During the proceedings, David Reade QC, for BA, told the judge that his application was for interim relief - an injunction - "seeking to restrain the defendant trade union from inducing breaches of contract in respect of a strike".
Members of Unite were due to walk out from May 18-22 inclusive, then from May 24-28, May 30-June 3 and June 5-9, the last strike ending just days before the start of the football World Cup in South Africa.
The judge refused the union permission to appeal although it can renew its application to the Court of Appeal.
Its QC, John Hendy, told the judge that it was possible that the Court of Appeal would consider the case on Tuesday.
Unite sent text messages to its cabin crew members at BA urging them to work normally in view of the judgment, and saying that the union planned to appeal against the decision. Copies of the injunction were sent to all workplaces by the union.
Joint leaders Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson said: "This judgment is an absolute disgrace and will rank as a landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action. Its implication is that it is now all but impossible to take legally-protected strike action against any employer who wishes to seek an injunction on even the most trivial grounds."