The world's favourite airline may be about to become something
entirely different. That is, if it survives.
This week, details emerged of a radical repositioning for British
Airways, labelled by some as the biggest revolution since privatisation
in 1997. Aside from thousands more job cuts, the plan involves pulling
out of the domestic market and surrendering to budget airlines by
cutting flights to Europe. Instead, BA would focus on profitable
long-haul routes, ending its culture of being a global carrier that is
all things to all people.
Of course, all this might be too late - the gloom-mongers predict that
BA is in a nosedive toward bankruptcy.
If BA goes under, it will not only be a blow to the airline industry,
but to the country - it's likely to seriously damage the image of 'UK
plc'. After all, as little as a decade ago, BA was one of the UK's most
famous and most trusted brands - known for its standards of service,
professionalism and safety. Synonymous, some might even say, with
So what happened? The latest crisis may have been sparked by September
11, but it is not really about the state of air travel. During the 90s,
BA saw Virgin walk away with its customer service mantle, while easyJet
and Ryanair proved that cheap and simple is the way forward on
short-haul routes. Then there were the PR disasters: the tailfin fiasco,
the strikes and the Concorde crash.
Repositioning BA as a carrier for premium passengers pleased the City,
but the timing was wrong, with the economic slowdown forcing businesses
to cut costs. It also sent out damaging signals, turning BA's
positioning into the 'world's favourite airline for rich businessmen'.
This hardly enhanced its already arrogant image, fuelled by Virgin's
clever PR tactics.
Our review of 2001, starting on page 20, charts BA's fortunes over the
past year. Contrasted with the success of the budget carriers, it
illustrates just what chaos BA has fallen into. BA's current marketing
strategy seems unclear and smacks of desperation - with a raft of price
cuts and promotions with The Daily Mail aiming at precisely the kind of
travellers BA was trying to move away from.
Is there a way out of this tailspin? Perhaps it's too late, in which
case BA will be consigned to history as a once great, now dead,
Or perhaps BA can reinvent itself for a new kind of flying public - one
that is wary of flying but still wants and needs to travel long
distances efficiently and economically, yet with high standards of
service and comfort.
If BA does go ahead with radical change, then it must not do so
half-heartedly, but embrace its new image in its branding, communicating
to travellers what it stands for. And that's something BA hasn't done
for some time.
This article was first published on Marketing