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Saturday, 13 March 2010
British Airways - The Devil is in the Detail
I've professionally crossed swords with British Airways for over 30 years and at one time handled the marketing for RAMS - Retail Agents Marketing Service, seen it though the unfortunate period when it was renamed simply British and battled with a very stroppy highly opinionated corporate affairs directorate headed by a card carrying Ulsterman/politican and had a stand up row with the late Lord King (and he was right. Dammit!).
But the latest round of strike calls and the stance of the Unite union says more about the timing of the General Election than the wellbeing of cabin crews, who like lemmings have flocked and endorsed the Union line. The whole thing stinks.
And just so you don't get me wrong I have little time for Willie Walsh, from his public appearances I find him aloof, defensive and a basic inability to communicate clearly. His PR handlers should be replaced and the little chap taken in hand. The corporate video on the http://www.ba.com/ website is trite.
The simple fact is that Walsh who did well at PaddyAir Lingus was seeking to do the same thing at British Airways.. but cheap no frills airlines especially Ryanair and Easyjet have cuts the legs from underneath British Airways and left (what should be the nationalised) the national carrier floundering in a sea of old style spanish practices, a cossetted overpaid airside workforce and a failing luxury class travel market.
Technology has rendered many businessd trips redundant and the worldwide recession has done the rest. As it will do so for many years to come. There is massive overcapacity and politics seeking carbon neutral solutions will certainly ramp up future costs making the whole business uncompetitive in a cost-aware ruthlessly competitive commercial environment.
So to the current dispute: British Arways have taken many of their own crewed flights off the market from March 14th to the end of March, despite the fact that the crews are at the moment only taking part in two short 3 and 4 day strikes.
Walsh knows full well - and the media is being amazingly thick on this - the strikes are effectively valid for the whole of March from the 14th, as all the aircraft after the first strike will physically be in the wrong position. Commercially much better to cancel the flights, ground the aircraft, save on fuel with light payloads. Yes, people are bing offered money back but not the interest on payments banked some months ago! Walsh, win, win!
Could be that if i were Willie Walsh I would also like to ensure that all my aircraft are totally fault free, even if cleared for flight? Many of the grounded aircraft will in future go 'technical' and be unfit for commercial service. Repaifr or dump? They might even be flown directly to Death Valley, USA during or after the strikes for parking, mothballing or break up.
Those aircraft in the BA fleet on lease, simply returned to the lease owners meaning less cabin crew required and higher load factors on the remaining flights - oh, and another thing BA didn't buy their fuel forward like some of the cheap no frills carriers and are now paying a heavy premium for their fuel. Management fail.
Many travellers will find that despite all the doom and gloom their British Airways flights are still running to schedule and its not a case of chartering as some TV news services have speculated. It is much, much easier than that.
BA are a founder member of Oneworld, http://www.oneworld.com/ a long standing alliance of 11 airlines and all already operate a codeshare flight and ticket interchange, the flight might be badged BA but you could well be flying on Quantas, Cathy Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, JAL, LAN, Malev, Mexican or even Royal Jordanian. Even more so in the future.
The Unions have overlooked this and as their effective power ends at the UK border, the Unions and strikers will need to take to heart the words from that late much respected former president of Alitalia Umberto Nordio who once said to me when trying to explain air industry finance "You have to remember that arlines are simply assets you can instantly move from country to country to get the best value." Politicans seem to have forgetten that.
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