LONDON (AP) – Thousands of disgruntled vacationers were stranded at Heathrow Airport on Tuesday after British Airways canceled scores of flights because of staff shortages and technical hitches.

Passengers at Europe’s busiest airport slept on benches, joined long lines to rebook their flights or simply gave up and returned home as the airline grounded 56 flights over two days.

“To be told that they’ve got no staff is ludicrous,” said Tom Edmonds, 36, whose flight to Nice, France, was canceled. “I’m only going for four days, and I now have to queue up to try and get myself booked on a later flight.”

British Airways pulled the plug on 31 flights to and from short-haul destinations in Britain and Europe on Tuesday – a day after it scrapped 25 flights to the United States and other European destinations.

The airline said it was short about 120 staff at Heathrow. Several airline staff members left unexpectedly at the beginning of the summer and large numbers were away on sick leave, a spokesman said. British Airways is recruiting more staff.

The airline last week headed off a strike for the Aug. 28-31 public holiday in Britain by offering baggage handlers and check-in staff more pay. Workers complain they are underpaid and overworked, particularly during the busy summer vacation periods at Heathrow.

Most flights operated by the airline, which usually carries about 100,000 passengers a day, were delayed by several hours. British Airways said it expected at least 8,000 travelers to be directly affected by the end of Tuesday.

The disruption at the height of the summer vacation season made headline news across Britain and some commentators suggested the airline could find it tough to win back public favor.

British Airways urged all passengers to consult its Web site before traveling to Heathrow, but many travelers complained that up-to-date information was not available on the site.

Passengers at the airport described scenes of chaos as travelers tried to gain information about their flights from check-in staff.

“The attitude of the (British Airways) staff is lamentable – they basically have a charm absence – and it seems to be a disinterest generally in passenger care,” said Douglas Evans, who was scheduled to fly to Nice with his wife and two teenage children for an eight-day holiday.

Evans said he would travel with budget airlines in future.

A British Airways spokeswoman said most people who were due to fly Tuesday were now rebooked onto other flights. Passengers also were being given overnight hotel accommodations.

British Airways’ problems began Monday afternoon when it canceled flights to Philadelphia, Chicago and New York because of technical problems with its aircraft.

Those cancellations, combined with staff shortages at the airline, had a domino effect, leading to the cancellation of flights Monday and Tuesday.

“August is the busiest period of the year for British Airways and services at Heathrow are stretched,” the airline said. “We have also had some technical problems with our aircraft and these combined has resulted in the cancellations.”

But Ed Blisset, a spokesman for the GMB union, which represents some British Airways check-in staff, said the cancellations were inevitable.

“If they had taken on operational staff earlier this summer, then I don’t think these difficulties would be occurring today,” Blisset told Sky News.


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