In a letter to the FT, BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan argues that the ‘unhappy shambles’ of the T5 opening weekend is ‘symptomatic of British Airways' loss of focus on delivering a sound operation’. He says BALPA - which is currently threatening BA with strike action, we should point out - has spent years trying to get BA to raise its game in terms of punctuality, baggage control and product quality, but without success. ‘Banks, institutional investors and analysts need to wake up to the fact that there is something very wrong at the heart of this company that is making our once great brand a laughing stock,’ he rants.
To make things worse, BA suffered yet more problems at T5 this weekend – although this time the fault lay with malevolent weather gods as well as useless baggage control systems. With heavy snowfalls across the south-east, another 140 flights were cancelled as airport staff tried desperately to clear the runways and de-ice the aeroplanes (it was even forced to deny rumours that it had run out of de-icer; perhaps CEO Willie Walsh managed to dash down to Halfords to stock up?). And although the snow may have melted away overnight, the airline’s problems haven’t – about 10% of this morning’s flights were cancelled too.
As BALPA points out, the timing isn’t exactly ideal. The new Open Skies agreement means BA is about to face a lot more competition on its lucrative routes to the US, while it doesn’t exactly do wonders for the industry’s chances of winning the argument about a third runway. The problem, according to the union, is that BA is too preoccupied with the bottom line to worry about service quality. ‘This airline can and should make Britain proud but a fundamental change of attitude is required from the very highest levels of BA management,’ McAuslan griped today.
To be fair, BALPA isn’t exactly an impartial witness when it comes to BA. It’s currently embroiled in a heated industrial dispute with the airline about pilot recruitment on its new European subsidiary (‘which will use BA money and BA aircraft but not BA pilots’, as McAuslan puts it) – BA is planning to take the pilots to court after they voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, which hasn’t exactly gone down well. So they’re not exactly the best of chums at the moment.
Still, it’s a bit hard to dispute its suggestion that the T5 debacle has done untold damage to the reputation of both BA and the airline industry as a whole. Shareholders are soon going to get jumpy if BA’s pilots walk out, because passengers won’t be far behind...