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Ahead of strike, British Airways asks frequent flyers for help

By CNN Wire Staff
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Airline seeks help from flyers
  • British Airways is asking its Premier card members to support the airline during strike
  • The airline e-mailed 1,200 Premier cardholders asking for help protecting its reputation
  • Union may strike for three days on March 20, and for four more days on March 27

London, England (CNN) -- After years of treating them like royalty, British Airways is asking the super-elite travelers who carry its Premier card for a little love in return.

Bracing for the first of two planned strikes by its unionized cabin crews, the airline e-mailed its roughly 1,200 Premier cardholders Wednesday asking for help protecting its reputation in the weeks ahead.

"We would like to call on you, as an invited Premier cardholder, to be an ambassador for the British Airways brand where you can," reads the e-mail. "Your support as a leader within your field would be invaluable to us during this difficult time. We simply ask that you continue to use your considerable influence to support our business."

Will a strike by British Airways affect you?

The e-mail, whose authenticity was confirmed to CNN by the airline, doesn't ask Premier cardholders to take specific actions. But it does ask for sympathy, recognizing the the harm that labor strikes pose to the BA brand -- especially in the down economy.

"We don't need to tell you the damage that an industrial action could do to British Airways' business and reputation in the current climate," the e-mail reads. "...British Airways has survived the worst recession since the Second World War by driving down costs and reducing inefficiencies. Despite our efforts, we are facing a second year of record losses."

On Monday, the airline unveiled an ambitious contingency plan in preparation for the strikes, announcing that it plans to lease aircraft and provide replacement workers.

iReport: Are you caught up in the strike?

The Unite union's leadership aimed to ground the airline through its action, but "the flag will continue to fly," said Willie Walsh, BA chief executive, in a written statement. "Around 60 percent of our customers will be able to fly as planned and many thousands more can be rebooked onto alternative BA flights or onto rival airlines."

Members of the Unite union voted to strike for three days beginning March 20, and for four more days beginning March 27. BA said Monday its contingency plans will allow about 45,000 customers to fly each day during the first strike period.

"At this stage, the vast majority of flights between March 23 and March 31 remain in the schedule, and we will update customers due to fly during the second strike period after the first strike period has ended," the statement said.

We simply ask that you continue to use your considerable influence to support our business
--E-mail to British Airways Premier card holders

"The airline is still available to hold further talks but wants customers to have early warning of its flying schedule to allow sufficient time for alternative travel arrangements to be made."

The airline said it has also made agreements with 40 other carriers to rebook customers free of charge during the strike period if their British Airways flights are canceled.

"We will continue to try to prevent this strike taking place, but we have reached a point when we must now offer some clarity to our customers who have waited with great patience since Friday, when the strike dates were first announced," Walsh said in the British Airways statement.

The industrial action is over planned changes to cabin crew conditions, which British Airways says will save the carrier more than 60 million pounds ($90 million) a year. Unite has said the plans call for working hours to be extended and crew levels to be cut, changes that it has said will damage customer service and the BA brand.

The airline's management submitted a formal offer to the union last week, Unite said, but said the offer failed to address union concerns about crew numbers and service delivery. That prompted Unite officials to announce the strike dates Friday. When that occurred, the airline took its offer off the table.

The airline, for its part, also has rejected all union proposals so far, saying they would have saved the airline significantly less money than the airline's own planned changes.

British Airways has opened an extra call center manned by volunteers to help customers, the Monday statement said.