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Qantas Airlines grounds flights in labor dispute

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Australia-based Qantas Airlines grounded flights across the globe Saturday amid an intensifying labor dispute that is disrupting international travel for thousands of passengers.

The company’s domestic and international departures were canceled after Qantas announced that it is locking out workers represented by three of its employee unions, including those that represent pilots and baggage handlers. Qantas advised its customers not to go to the airport until further notice and said a full refund will be available to any customer who chooses to cancel a flight.

“Qantas regrets that this action has become necessary and apologizes sincerely to all affected passengers,” the company said in a statement.

Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said the company informed her that its actions would ground five of its aircraft -? three 747s and two A-380s -? at LAX. “I think it’s significant for us,” she said. “Qantas is a major customer of ours. Whenever disruption occurs for a major business customer, we feel their pain.”

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[Updated 3:44 p.m.: LAX officials officials said Saturday that Qantas’ decision would actually leave nine of the company’s aircraft grounded at LAX, including six 747s and one A380.]

So far, one 8:50 a.m. flight from LAX to New York has been canceled, an airport spokeswoman said. LAX staffers are referring all customer calls to the Qantas web site, www.qantas.com.

Qantas’ decision is expected to cost roughly $20 million per day. It was the latest move in a protracted labor dispute that has affected 70,000 passengers and led to the cancellation of 600 flights, the company said. The company’s action drew an angry response from Paul Howes, national secretary for the Australian Workers’ Union, who called it “irresponsible, unnecessary and endangering future viability of the airline.”

“Words can’t express our anger at the unilateral decision Qantas management has taken ?- as well as the impact it will have on all Qantas workers and the thousands of travelers now left stranded in Australia and around the world,” he said in a statement.

Workers who were locked out are represented by the Australian and International Pilots Union, the Transport Workers Union and the Australian Licenced Engineers Union.

The company’s QantasLink, Jetstar, Jetconnect services, and freight services will continue to operate as normal.


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