Ladbrokes boss gets personal in BA row

We've all had our gripes with airlines, but not many of us have 14,000 staff to rally to our cause.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Ladbrokes boss Chris Bell was so upset about BA trying to bump his daughter off a flight in Barbados that he’s ordered his corporate travel agents to stop using the airline for the company’s business travel. The loss of business could apparently cost BA up to £2m – not exactly what it needs as it battles against soaring fuel costs and falling passenger numbers. We bet that won’t go down well with boss Willie Walsh.

Apparently the row broke out when Bell was trying to get on a flight home from Barbados with his 14-year-old daughter and her friend. The flight was over-booked – but although Bell got a seat (by virtue of his frequent flyer card), BA said there was no room for the girls. The ever-thoughtful airline then further enraged Bell by offering the girls £250 each to stay in Barbados – to which he pointed out that he could hardly go home and abandon two schoolchildren to their own devices in a foreign country (who knows what they’d get up to?). Eventually BA relented and let them on the flight.

Not surprisingly, Bell felt moved to complain, even going so far as to write a personal letter to Walsh – but he wasn’t impressed with the response. ‘Some bird rang up from a call centre and offered the two girls £20 vouchers each at the corporate shop,’ moaned the ever-PC betting boss. ‘I said: 'What do you expect them to buy with that - a teddy bear’?’ (to be honest most 14-year-old girls would probably plump for a litre of Malibu and a copy of Grazia, but we’ll let that slide). Eight calls later, he’s apparently still waiting for a decent compensation offer.

Now you may be thinking that this is a blatant abuse of corporate power – surely it’s outrageous that a CEO can use his own staff as a bargaining tool just because he’s got a personal gripe with the airline? (even if most of us would probably love to do the same on the countless occasions our baggage disappears into the ether)

But Bell’s argument is that this is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. His letter to Walsh listed a number of customer service cock-ups by BA in recent months – and then of course there’s the T5 fiasco. So we reckon it’s odds-on that Walsh will have to do some serious sucking-up to get Bell and co back on board...

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