What has led to the descent of the 'world's favourite airline' to one of the world's most frustrated? The share price of British Airways has been in a long, slow dive as the City reacts to its declining fortunes, and morale is at ground level among many of the staff at the once proud flag carrier. One employee tried to sum it up with an unpleasant scrawl on a wall at Heathrow Airport: 'First we had a King, then we had a Marshall - now we are just Ayling.' Too simplistic by half, but telling in the way it depicts the feeling of those in the City and at BA who have had enough of the airline's present chief executive.
The king is a reference to Lord King, the grand old president of British Airways who was entrusted by Margaret Thatcher with the job of privatising it in the mid-80s. The marshall is Lord (Colin) Marshall, who carried on that work first as chief executive and now chairman, turning the airline into one of the world's most successful. And then we come to Bob Ayling, the shy and still boyish Londoner who has been at the controls as BA has plummeted from the heights of comfortable profitability to what could be a loss of between pounds 100 million and pounds 220 million by March.
The world has more airlines than it needs. They offer more seats than the current pool of passengers can fill and, in Europe, what was once a nightmare trip with Alitalia or Iberia is now surprisingly agreeable.