The carrier has had a rough week as it prepares to celebrate its centenary, according to Travel Weekly’s Ian Taylor
British Airways launched its first Airbus A350 and a new Club Suite business class this week as it prepared to celebrate its hundred birthday – well a 100th birthday of sorts.
Enough causes to celebrate, one would think. Yet news of BA this week was dominated not by celebration.
Rather, BA was in the headlines on Monday-Tuesday after smoke filled the cabin of an aircraft en route to Valencia.
The airline was in the spotlight again on Wednesday following a malfunction of check-in and departure IT systems at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City which led to the cancellation of 130 flights – especially bad news in peak season.
Thousands of passengers were stranded.
The IT failures put a fresh perspective on BA’s response to a threat by its pilots to strike over pay – BA’s flight crew could walk out at 14-days’ notice this month or any time up to Christmas. At this rate, they might not need to.
I caught ITV’s News at Ten on Wednesday – Tom Bradby is the best UK TV news anchor by a country mile – and the first 10 minutes was a poison pen letter to BA.
The airline’s bosses should be seriously alarmed because the TV news report touched a nerve that is exposed repeatedly in private by aviation analysts and senior travel industry figures
If I had a pound for everyone in the corporate or leisure travel business who has caned BA in private to me in the past three or four years I could retire on the proceeds.
A catalogue of problems
The smoke-filled cabin on the flight to Valencia triggered praise for the crew – the pilots landed the aircraft wearing oxygen masks and goggles – and a demand by the Unite trade union for an investigation into “toxic cabin air and fume events” on flights.
Unite suggested the same aircraft had been involved in two earlier ‘fume events’ in June.
That does, indeed, need investigating.
This week’s IT glitches led to widespread claims that BA has underinvested in technology. They were not the first, of course. BA suffered a serious outage, and much-more serious delays and cancellations, in June 2017.
The airline also suffered a serious cyber breach, revealed last September, which has left it facing a £183 million fine imposed by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Yet BA’s problems could be about to become a whole lot worse. Its pilots have voted overwhelming to strike and will be less than impressed by the airline’s bosses twice taking their union Balpa to court last month. BA lost both times.
Chief executive Alex Cruz declare this week that he is “convinced” he can reach agreement with the pilots.
He needs to make that happen before the carrier’s reputation suffers further.
Most passengers are unlikely to view an unnecessary confrontation with pilots sympathetically in the peak holiday period.
New business class, old airline
BA’s launch of its first Airbus A350 service and unveiling of a spanking new business class was submerged by the negative media coverage.
The new seat, which offers aisle axis to every Club passenger, will no doubt please the minority of passengers who get to fly in it as it is rolled out across the airline’ fleet over coming years.
But it won’t cut against the tide BA now faces.
In the circumstances, Cruz may be wise to stick to his pledge to mark “the 100 years of flying” which BA will celebrate over the August Bank Holiday with “a quiet celebration”.
In truth, BA dates from 1974 when the former British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) merged with British European Airways (BEA).
BEA had split from BOAC in 1946. BOAC was formed in 1939 by the merger of Imperial Airways and an earlier British Airways which launched in 1936.
Imperial Airways, in turn, dated from 1924, having been formed by the merger of four aviation companies – one of which, Handley Page Transportation, operated flights to Paris from September 1919.
A separate company operated a single passenger flight to Paris on August 25 1919 – and that is the date BA will celebrate as its 100th birthday.
By contrast, Dutch rival KLM launched as KLM in October 1919 and lays claim to be genuinely 100 years old.
Back in the present, BA parent IAG insisted last week that it will contest the ICO fine on BA all the way to the UK Court of Appeal.
It would do better paying up and using some of the rest of the £2 billion profit it made last year and £2 billion more it is forecast to make this year to sort out its IT.
Then perhaps BA could celebrate a ‘100th anniversary’ of sorts and expect passengers and trade partners to join in.
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