British Airways is currently investigating check-in staff based at Gatwick, who posted messages on Facebook saying that its passengers are ‘smelly' and that Terminal 5 operations are ‘shambolic'. The latter view is hardly radical, but BA would probably prefer such attacks to be left to outsiders.
The airline has described the remarks, some of which appeared in a staff member's Facebook discussion group headed ‘Things that irritate you more when working on check-in', as ‘disappointing'. Other pages set up by BA workers mocked chief exec Willie Walsh, featured a band singing about ‘what a disaster' Terminal 5 is, and included the comment: ‘Cabin Crew are leaving faster than Dawn French from a Weight Watchers meeting because they simply don't get paid enough.'
BA has come to expect attacks from observers. Indeed, today the airline was pulled up for its role in the T5 debacle by the House of Commons Transport Committee, which called the £4.3bn terminal a ‘national embarrassment'. But having its own people slating its operations, customers and the boss on public forums is the last thing a beleaguered company needs.
Still, at least it isn't the only airline to find itself rocked by staff comments. Virgin last week dismissed 13 employees for a similar incident, in which crew members described its customers as ‘chavs', and dubbed its planes ‘old bangers' that were full of cockroaches.
Social networking is clearly a powerful modern phenomenon, and if staff aren't briefed clearly on the implications of improper use of such vast public platforms it can have a serious effect your PR. Which is a shame - when harnessed properly it is a tool with huge potential for improving both individual careers and business as a whole.
Such an enlightened approach may take a while to embed itself at BA and Virgin. And at Argos. The retailer was forced to sack an employee last summer for setting up a Facebook page headed: ‘I Work At Argos And Can't Wait To Leave Because It's S**t.'
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