Monday, 29 March 2010

Death Wish?

The second planned strike by Unite has gone ahead and BA reckon that 75% of their scheduled flights will go ahead.

The two statements within that one sentence should be the most terrible things a world class airline could possibly imagine but for Willie Walsh, the CEO of what was once 'The World's Favourite Airline', it seems to be music. He has been described recently as being 'macho' in the face of an unreasonable Union but the reality is that the fight with Unite over changes to Cabin Staff contracts is only one area of failure amidst a whole plethora for the CEO. In fact, about a year before the recession, he was voted one of the Executives of the Decade, right now he is about the biggest chump. Having lost the hearts and minds of some of the best and most loyal staff a business could have, it seems that the Board of BA are 100% behind his absurd actions but this cannot be good for shareholders.

In the grip of the first strike, I had to travel to Germany. Our agency got quotes for the required travel times and BA came out at £800 for the planned journey vs Lufthansa's £237 - standard economy fares on a standard route. OK, so that was in the middle of the strike, but last week I flew to Milan and Lufthansa again came in at around £325 to the similar flight of BA's at over £700.

All along, it has never been about the cost cutting for me - it's been Walsh' abject lack of strategy and business acumen. How can you have a business that is going to succeed when it is charging such prices at recessionary times against its main rivals? Lufthansa is cleaning up - full planes each trip, efficiently run, on time and with decent service with real technological advantages like Boarding Cards via SMS. BA is lost in the wilderness between premium class and low cost. So what does it do with the cash injection it got? It buys the second largest loss making airline in Europe, Iberia, who is similarly placed and tries to combine them. Iberia is perhaps worse off - all its old premium roots into Malaga, Valencia and other cities are dominated by low cost airlines who fly customers in waves - supposedly cheaper - for no frills. BA inherits few new profitable roots, a heavy cost based business and a management equally defunct of ideas from an airline that does not yet lose as much money as BA.

But that's not all - less than a year after two decent airlines flying all business class service to New York went bust (and both were excellent), BA launches one from City Airport which flies just 32 people via Shannon for around £5,000 each. The target customers are City Bankers, the most hated part of society since the recession and credit crunch - Walsh could not have made a bigger PR and business blunder.

Yet he survives. The lack of strategy is almost childlike, the tackling of Unite is pathetic. You can feel it happening again as the whizz kids at Royal Mail found out when capitulating to the Unions for a cost much higher than originally asked for, that modern businesses cannot take prolonged industrial actions and Walsh will have to relent or let his business die. Why would you do that?

BA is basically ruined. It will never rise again to be the airline it was but maybe the world wants something different. The trust and belief that the loyal staff had prior to all this has been ruptured and will never be regained. Walsh has put a sword through the heart of what was one of Britain's best companies.

It takes some skill to be that incompetent; to make a once loyal and much loved staff strike to kill their own company. When BA was the world's favourite airline, it was all about the staff.
He simply does not get it, does he?

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