A 32-seater A318, which normally carries business people from London City to New York, was today pressed into service to fly a British Airways relief team of volunteers to JFK to help get the schedule back on track following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy.

A further ten volunteers will fly out on the BA189 scheduled flight to Newark this afternoon.

The decision to send a team was made by the Operations management team at 6pm yesterday following a request from British Airways in the US.

The next step was to initiate the automated call out to Reach volunteers, colleagues who had taken the three-day Epic and Reach course at Waterside. (Reach stands for REsponse Assistance Care and Help.)

One of those contacted was Paul Murrell, a senior software engineer at Waterside. “The call came at nine o’clock and I was in the pub at the time,” he said. “It was one of those automated messages and at first I thought it was one of those crank ‘win a prize’ calls.

“I phoned in and they asked if I was available to be deployed on a relief flight to New York and said I would need to report to T5 at 9.30 this morning.”

The staff travel room at T5 was this morning thronged with Paul and his fellow volunteers, who had all been told to expect to be away between four and seven days.

One of them was Nicky Jechand, a senior customer service agent at Gatwick. “My children are at university so I thought, I need to do this,” she says. “It fell at the right time.”

She was nervous about doing it without moral support and so called her colleague Elizabeth Day, who had to arrange for people to look after her two dogs, before joining the relief flight team.

Before the flight, which left at 12.50, the volunteers were briefed by business performance manager Mark Stringer, who is working with the business resilience team.

“We are sending people with ticketing, rebooking and customer-handling skills to help out when we resume services over the next 24 hours,” he said.

“Many of our colleagues in New York have been flooded, had their houses damaged, lost their cars or have no heating or power. This relief team will work alongside our teams in New York to do all they can to help our customers who have been caught up in the disruption.”

The aircraft which will fly out the first team, including two IT specialists and six managers, was available because its service had been cancelled.