British Airways has been flying planes from Britain to North America this month without a single passenger aboard because of a cabin crew shortage, the airline said Wednesday.
One environmental group sharply criticized the "phantom" BA flights, saying they indicate once again how indifferent the aviation sector can be to the world's battle against global warming.
Since Nov. 1, about one BA flight a day from Britain to the United States or Canada has left Heathrow or Gatwick airport carrying only pilots and cargo because of a cabin crew shortage, BA spokesman Tony Cane said.
The empty flights allowed BA to pick up passengers in North America who have reservations to fly to Britain, he said.
BA denied a report in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that said the airline also was operating the empty flights to avoid losing its valuable take-off and landing slots at Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest.
British Airways PLC controls 41 per cent of the sought-after slots at Heathrow airport - more than any other airline - and like other flyers it must use them 80 per cent of each year to retain them.