British Airways said on Saturday emergency plans to handle a three-day cabin crew strike were working well as opponents sought to use the dispute to embarrass the Labour government weeks before an election.
The walkout over pay and jobs which began at midnight will disrupt travel for thousands of passengers after talks between the Unite union -- the Labour party's biggest single financial backer -- and management collapsed.
A further four-day strike is planned later this month.
BA, which plans to fly more than 60 percent of passengers this weekend -- some 49,000 people a day -- despite cancelling many of its scheduled flights, said its biggest ever contingency plan was going well.
"Our main aim this week has been to give customers as much information as early as possible so that they take up one of the options we have offered them," a spokesman said.
Unite said the strike had received strong support from crew.
"The severity of the disruption will get worse day by day as crews from overseas come back and then don't come back out," a spokesman said.
A Reuters witness at London Heathrow's Terminal 5, the airport's main hub for BA flights, said contingency plans appeared to be working as there were only a few people queuing for information about the strike.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for both sides to resolve their differences without delay, as political opponents sought to capitalise from Unite's link with his Labour party.
The prospect of the first national rail strike for 16 years added to the government's problems after signal workers voted for industrial action on Friday, although peace talks were due to be held next week.
Labour has strong union ties that go back to its foundation in 1900. The political director of Unite, Britain's largest union, is Brown's former spokesman.
The opposition Conservatives, favourites to win an election expected on May 6, said they had issued an advert on Saturday highlighting Labour's links with Unite.
"Will the prime minister come out in support of those people who would cross the picket line? No, because the Unite union is bankrolling the Labour party," Conservative leader David Cameron said in a speech in London.
"So the vested interests triumph and the people, including those cabin crew staff who don't want to go on strike, suffer."
BA, which has 12,000 cabin crew, wants to save an annual 62.5 million pounds ($95 million) to help cope with a fall in demand, volatile fuel prices and increased competition from low-cost carriers.
The airline has retrained 1,000 staff to stand in as temporary cabin crew, found passengers flights on rival airlines and chartered aircraft and crew to fulfil other routes.
Many crews, including those working on long-haul flights from London Gatwick airport, will not take part in the action as they have already agreed to proposed changes.
BA said it had got off to a "strong start" at Gatwick, flights at London City airport were operating normally, and a "significant number of crew" had reported for work at Heathrow.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 21 Mart 2010, 10:28