Supporters of the BA strikers demonstrate near Heathrow yesterday

BRITISH Airways chief executive Willie Walsh has criticised ongoing strike action at the airline which he says will ruin the Easter holidays for thousands of hard working people.

The former Aer Lingus chief slammed the Unite union which is at the centre of the stand-off between cabin crew and management at the British carrier.

Picket lines at airports, cancelled flights and up to 25% of customers left grounded are the side effects of four days of industrial action. Between yesterday and today, almost 100 flights were grounded.

It is the second weekend in a row that cabin crew have moved to disrupt services in a dispute over jobs and cost-cutting measures.

Unite said its 12,000 members looked to be strongly behind the action which saw hundreds of strikers gather at a football ground near Heathrow yesterday en-route to several individual picket lines.

But the airline is standing firm.

"The vast majority of BA staff, including thousands of cabin crew, are pulling together to serve our customers and keep our flag flying," Willie Walsh said in response this weekend.

"At the same time, I feel really sorry for those customers whose plans have been ruined by the Unite union's completely unjustified action. Despite the union's promises, this strike has affected the Easter holiday plans of thousands of hard working people."

Sympathies aside, many frustrated BA customers have let their feelings be known about cancelled flights, travel delays and derailed holiday plans.

"We'll never use BA again, we wouldn't want to go through all this again," said 54-year-old John Cawley from Liverpool, whose family had to hire a minibus to replace a BA connecting flight from Manchester to Heathrow, before flying on to the US.

"It seems there are no certainties with BA at all. We're having to take this trip one step at a time. Once one bit is over we start to worry about the next one. There are question marks over everything."

Professional cyclist Josie Loane was another unhappy passenger. The 29-year-old said she had been travelling for around 20 hours after leaving her native Australia early on Friday morning, only to find her connecting flight to Oslo had been cancelled.

"I've been re-booked on to another flight but it doesn't leave until around 2pm so I've got lots of waiting around," she said yesterday.

"It's pretty bad. They haven't even offered me a free meal ticket or offered to look after my luggage or anything. If my flight this afternoon goes to plan then I'll be all right. But if not, then there's no way in hell I'll fly with them again."

She added: "The staff just relate to their policies. That's all well and good for them but it doesn't really suit everyone. I know they've got their certain ways to respond to things but it doesn't really help the customer."

BA says it expects to deliver on flights for more than 180,000 of the 240,000 passengers who had planned to travel between the affected dates of 27-30 March.

Some 18% of its customers were rebooked onto alternative carriers yesterday or had changed the dates of departure to side-step the industrial action.

The cost of the strikes is also a source of antagonism between both sides. BA claims a figure of £7m (€7.8m) per day while Unite has estimated an overall dent of around £100m (€111m).

At Heathrow, BA said it would operate 70% of its long-haul programme (up from 60% in the first strike period from 20-22 March) and 55% of its short-haul programme (up from 30%).

It said that over the four-day period it would fly a full, normal schedule from Gatwick and London City Airports.

However, even with positive outlooks from the airline, the future of the dispute paints a more negative picture.

Steve Turner of Unite said that further action was likely unless an agreement could be reached over changing pay and conditions, which includes a proposal to reduce the number of cabin crew on long haul flights.

However, in an interview with the BBC, Willie Walsh said there were currently no plans to meet with the union and that travel perks withdrawn from striking staff would not be reinstated.

Traditionally employees at the airline could book flights for just 10% of the face value, a perk extended to family and friends. Its withdrawal has been labelled "unacceptable anti-union bullying" by Unite.

Analysts have said that BA needs to dramatically reduce its costs and the carrier is bracing itself for the announcement of its worst financial performance since privatisation. In 2009 it lost over £400m (€444m).