Members of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) are taking their first industrial action against the airline, grounding hundreds of flights.
BA has offered a pay rise of 11.5% over three years but Balpa says its members wanted a bigger share of the company’s profits.
BA said in a statement: “We understand the frustration and disruption Balpa’s strike action has caused our customers. After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this.
“We remain ready and willing to return to talks with Balpa.
“Unfortunately, with no detail from Balpa on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly, so we had no option but to cancel nearly 100% of our flights.”
BA has spent weeks offering refunds to passengers or the option to rebook to another date of travel or an alternative airline.
The airline operates up to 850 flights a day, with most expected to be canceled, affecting up to 145,000 passengers.
Heathrow airport will be worst affected as it is the busiest hub for BA.
Both sides have said they want to resume talks, but there is little or no sign of the deadlock being broken.
Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “British Airways needs to wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard.
“They’ve previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits.
“Balpa has consistently offered up chances for the company to negotiate a way forward. British Airways must now put the needs of its staff and passengers first and accept that its pilots will not be bullied or fobbed off.”
Stratton added that the union is open to negotiating a better deal for pilots that will “end this dispute.”
“The company’s leaders, who themselves are paid huge salaries and have generous benefits packages, won’t listen, are refusing to negotiate and are putting profits before the needs of passengers and staff,” he said.
“This strike will have cost the company considerably more than the investment needed to settle this dispute.
“It is time to get back to the negotiating table and put together a serious offer that will end this dispute.”
Balpa said the strike will cost BA £40 million ($49.2 million) a day, claiming the dispute could be settled for £5 million ($6.15 million).
BA said its offer would take the pay of some captains to more than £200,000 (nearly $246,000).