The only remotely amusing thing about Court 23 at the High Court is that, directly opposite this dismal subterranean chamber, stands the Wellbeing Centre where the legal profession keeps fit.
Last week, while some barristers were working out and burning up energy on shiny steel machines, their counterparts were burning up the cash of British Airways (BA) and the cabin crew union, Unite, while the judge was working out the rights and wrongs of the dispute over staffing and duties inside aluminium tubes.
Crikey, I thought, as I contemplated the number of professionals involved in the court case and calculated a combined approximate hourly rate of £10,000, how can an industry as fragile as aviation possibly afford the luxury of a week in court?
As with any dispute, from a parking fine to a divorce, once a quarrel involves lawyers it has gone too far. And this court case was merely a sideshow to the ballot of more than 10,000 cabin crew for another round of industrial action – itself an indication of how strife from the 1970s is eroding one of the best brands in the business.
The poisonous squabble between management and cabin crew does no credit to either side. While the two sides quibbled over the detail of a hot towels service, other airlines were selling flights like hot cakes.
Every BA employee should be acutely aware of the dividends that easyJet, Virgin Atlantic, BMI and dozens of overseas airlines are reaping from the dispute; a traveller whose journey is vital will not want to book a flight that may be grounded by a strike.
From the union perspective, continuing uncertainty is a valuable weapon in causing maximum damage to BA – but the longer that the dispute drags on, the more negative the consequences for all airlines.
As I watched the legal wrangling, I felt that one very interested party was being sidelined amid all the arguments: the customer. Every week, about one million British travellers do the aviation industry the honour of investing cash and emotion in journeys that will not be taken for many weeks or months.
After coping with airline collapses and the big freeze, the travel industry deserves some certainty – and so do the customers who, ultimately, pay the cabin crew wages and BA salaries.
Hot towel? Right now, I’d settle for reliability.
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