With British Airways, is it time to fly or to sever? Jim Duffy comment

I’m currently sitting with a companion voucher for British Airways.
The strength of feeling around the way BA is going about its business is palpable, says Duffy. Picture: John DevlinThe strength of feeling around the way BA is going about its business is palpable, says Duffy. Picture: John Devlin
The strength of feeling around the way BA is going about its business is palpable, says Duffy. Picture: John Devlin

In short, one spends money on a credit card and builds up miles and points. But I’m not sure I may ever fly with them again. Our national flag carrier is currently behaving badly, in my opinion. To treat its staff from pilots to cabin crew to ticketing agents and engineers as it has been doing does not appear to be fair.

It is well documented that British Airways has had issues with unions and labour relations for decades. On many occasions, the airline has not gotten what it wanted its own way – and I wonder if this has stuck in the craw of its current leadership. And now with a global pandemic to cast a shadow over the airline industry, Willie Walsh is sticking the boot in.

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But there are two sides to every story, right? One must present both sides of the argument in most things in life. But the strength of feeling around the way British Airways is going about its business is palpable. It may end up a hugely profitable airline. But at what cost to its reputation?

British Always, part of the International Airlines Group, is one of those iconic brands that for decades has flown the skies professionally and safely. From the days of Sir Colin Marshall as CEO and chairman Lord King, its people were at the heart of everything it did. I should know. I was a BA cabin crew member from 1988 to 1992.

BA was obsessive about training us to a high standard, it was fixated on being the best, delivering value and customer service and was proud that it was the national flag carrier. Oh, how Sir Richard Branson hated that fact. Many a time he questioned it and wanted his airline – Virgin Atlantic – to be given the rights to use this. Alas, BA maintained the crown. But I’m not sure that it deserves that accolade now.


BA’s cabin crew were well trained and managed. Uniform standards were high. Within the airline industry, being a BA cabin crew member was the pinnacle of careers. The pay was so much better than rival airlines and the conditions were good. Not because British Airways was minded to pay well or provide three hours’ bunk rest on a London Heathrow to Bangkok flight. No, it was because the unions fought long and hard to look after cabin crew.

Cabin crew who now may be forced to take redundancy or a 50 per cent pay cut. How must they feel after 20 years of proudly donning their uniforms? Well, let me tell you – the old friends I have in the airline are feeling very disappointed. But BA always had one group of individuals that it could count on not to “talk out of school”.

One group of its staff who, although they appeared a bit “sniffy” at times, were stalwarts and a decent barometer of how the airline was being run. But this group – the pilots – are now feeling exactly what it is like to be on the sharp end of BA’s right hook. When BA is set on a path to make the lot of them redundant and then hire them all individually on individual contracts, then Houston we have a problem.

BALPA, the airline pilots’ union, is not happy. This action, in effect, makes them irrelevant, doesn’t it? BA is taking probably one of the best trained and honed set of pilots in the world, in my opinion, and treating them like first year students in the new term at school.

This does not bode well for relations inside the cockpit. I’m not sure how shareholders are truly feeling. Walsh will be promising them a bumper pay day at some point. But in times where we want to invest in ethically led companies, can they really condone what is going on at BA?

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One thing is for sure. Willie Walsh will win. He is a clever, smart and seasoned operator. He knows how to generate a profit. However, the beating heart of BA, its staff, will never be the same again. But, as long as he churns out £1 billion in annual profits, all will be forgotten in a few years. Maybe we have to question just how where we will spend our cash in the future.

I’m not decided yet. I am still waiting for the final outcome and I hope that it is not clearly catastrophic.

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special

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