Yesterday British Airways Cabin Staff announced formally what everyone in the UK airline was expecting but dreading, that is they were going to take strike action over Christmas 2009 in response to BA’s management demands for cuts and changes in working practices. This article examines the prospect of highly damaging flight cancellations and programme disruptions from an industry insider perspective.
British Airways: from the World’s Favourite to national embarrassment ?
The UK airline industry is reeling in response to yesterday’s announcement that British Airway’s cabin staff will go out on strike for 12 days over the peak Christmas 2009 travel period. There is total agreement that this action will severely damage the airline’s reputation – again – and even those alternative airlines which stand to gain from passengers switching onto their competing services do not believe that the disruption to the plans of up to one million travellers, at the most emotional time of year, can be good for the industry.
As with any dispute there is blame on both sides, British Airways have little good in the bank with the loyal staff who day in and day out face their customers on every flight. A succession of grievances and disputes stretch back over a number of Chief Executives and for many cabin staff this battle isn’t just about changes in working conditions, it’s about how the airline treats the vital staff who present the airline’s face to every passenger at the point of travel.
From the British Airways perspective, “goodwill in the bank” doesn’t pay pension fund deficits or escalating operating costs, so everyone must suffer some of the pain to pull the business model into a shape where the airline can initially survive and subsequently prosper.
So, assuming the strike goes ahead, who are the winners? Not British Airways. Which customer in their right mind would trust BA not to disrupt their next less important flight when they have just cancelled the one where family, relatives and children are involved. Not the cabin staff themselves, a smaller, brand-damaged BA will mean fewer flights, less jobs, a more difficult post recession. growth trajectory and consequently less opportunity for the career seeking steward or stewardess. As suggested above even the competing carriers who may pick up some short term passengers on routes which fail to operate will need to be aware that in the post recession economy passengers will inevitably be looking for proof that an airline will not fail to supply the flight it promises.
Possibly the on-line flight booking agencies such as alternativeairlines.com will gain as potential passengers look beyond the obvious choice s offered by an airline’s own web site and search for more information about each airline as well as a larger choice of alternative flights.
Whatever happens next it is clear the proposed “12 days of Christmas strike” from 22 December 2009 will, it goes ahead, will join the Peak summer 2005 catering staff strike and the Terminal 5 lost baggage disaster in leaving BA with a mountain to climb before it can ever again claim to anyone’s favourite airline.