The first day of the strike, British Airways officials said they were alerting passengers via telephone and e-mail.
But Jeff and Sarah Kanne of Chevy Chase said they were not notified. The couple arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport Thursday evening only to learn that their flight had been canceled. They spent three hours on the telephone yesterday trying to reach British Airways reservation agents to find out when they would be able to start their European vacation. They also visited the airline's Web site but found no useful information.
"They have my phone number and my e-mail address, and we haven't heard anything," Jeff Kanne said. "I'm not angry with them over the strike. I'm angry with them over their failure to communicate what's going on."
Travelers like the Kannes say they understand that things go wrong with a flight, but how that airline responds to those problems is often the determining factor of the airline's overall customer service.
Although British Airways PLC's baggage handlers and ground crew members returned to work yesterday, travel disruptions could last through the weekend as the London-based airline rebooks stranded passengers.
British Airways did not return repeated calls seeking comment. But a statement on the airline's Web site yesterday urged travelers flying this weekend to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport.
"The airline faces a complex logistical challenge with at least 100 aircraft and 1,000 flying crew out of position. As a result it will take some time to return to a normal flying program. We recognize how frustrating this must be but we are working as hard as we can to get customers away," the statement said.
Travel expert Tom Parsons, founder of Bestfares.com, said displaced travelers should request free first- or business-class upgrades or even refunds of their unused tickets. Parsons said travelers who purchased their airline tickets through a travel agent or a general travel Web site such as Orbitz.com or Travelocity.com should rebook their flights through those agents rather than calling British Airways because it may be difficult to get through.
"When you have a mass disruption, like a major snowstorm, it's difficult to get through to the airline. British Airways doesn't have the manpower to deal with it. They're just shooting from the hip," Parsons said.
Next week, another airline may be left scrambling to accommodate passengers because of an employee walkout. Northwest Airlines Corp., the fourth-largest U.S. carrier, is entering the final week of negotiations with its mechanics union. If the sides don't reach an agreement by Saturday, Aug. 20, the mechanics have said they will strike.
Northwest said it has about 1,500 trained replacement workers in place to ensure its operations won't be disrupted. But travel experts say airlines must spend as much time communicating with passengers as they do trying to maintain operations.
Because of high summer travel demand, few seats remain available on other airlines to accommodate stranded passengers. But some U.S. carriers have added flights. American Airlines normally has six flights a day between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Heathrow. It added a Boeing 777 with 300 seats to handle displaced British Airways passengers, said American spokesman Ned Reynolds.
United Airlines spokesman Jeff Green said the airline also hoped to add a flight from Heathrow but that depended on locating an available Boeing 747 and crew.