After the British Airways staff voted overwhelmingly for strike action earlier in the week, passengers across Eastern Africa started moving in droves to other airlines as a precaution, not wanting to risk being stranded over the Christmas and New Year period in case their flight was affected by strike action or fearing they might suffer from long delays in the aftermath of aircraft rotations being severely disrupted. Some of the other airlines in Kampala this column spoke with confirmed extra inquiries and demand for their flights over the holiday season and quietly expressed their hope to retain some of those passengers in the future after they had a chance to sample their own inflight service and performance on the ground and in the air.

Travel agents are actively advising their clients to drop travel plans with BA starting from December 21, and considering the hangover of stranded passengers and aircraft likely stuck elsewhere after January 2, to only return to BA a few days after the strikes have ended.

Here a little payback may come into play, as BA was the most active and determined airline to cut commissions to zero some time ago, incurring the wrath of the agencies in the region at the time, and at least one travel agent this column spoke to admitted freely that he is only booking BA when the clients really insist and cannot be persuaded to use another airline and will use this situation to promote other airlines like SN, KLM, Emirates, Virgin, Swiss, and KQ at the expense of British Airways.

“My sentiments about BA are not going away, they led the onslaught on our commissions and this will never be forgotten, not by me anyway,” he said in closing.

The damage this strike may do to British Airways’ medium- and long-term business cannot be underestimated at this stage, considering the strong sentiments expressed by potential passengers and previous BA faithfuls this column spoke with, none of whom expressed even one iota of sympathy for the intended strikes.

With the strikes now sanctioned between December 22 until January 2 – this being the absolute peak travel period for people wanting to be with families, while others have planned long-haul holidays to sun and sand destinations – it is likely that the plans of tens of thousands of people will be disrupted, while many other airlines are waiting in the wings to absorb the extra demand. It will not be a happy holiday for travelers when BA translates into “British Absent.”