'Bruised' BA looks to rebuild its reputation

British Airways this week came under fire from crisis comms experts for allowing its dispute with catering company Gate Gourmet to get out of hand and failing to provide information to stranded customers. However, it has attracted plaudits for a 'fast and efficient' media response to last week's strike.

Widespread analysis of the fiasco continues as it emerged this week that Gavin Anderson & Co was brought in by Gate Gourmet four weeks ago to handle the expected crisis from the staff dispute.

Crisis comms specialist Regester Larkin MD Andrew Griffin told PRWeek: 'Firms with a history of industrial disputes should realise they don't have to be directly involved in an issue to be affected by it.'

Agency commentators also warned that the company's third summer strike in a row had made it a 'regular feature' and that the company's name was beginning to be associated with industrial action at the height of summer.

BA head of corporate comms Iain Burns admitted the company's reputation had been 'bruised' by the strike. He said the airline would be conducting a 'massive market research' survey to gauge public feeling about the company, and would then react accordingly.

But BA was praised for the quick apology issued by chief executive Sir Rod Eddington. Journalists said the company's media team compared favourably with other big organisations faced with major crises.

The Daily Telegraph transport correspondent David Millward said: 'BA realised the importance of getting information to the media as fast as possible, and it realised there was no point in spinning such obviously bad news into good, so it was straightforward.'

Burns denied claims that customers were kept in the dark, and said the company had sent 1,500 staff, many of whom volunteered, into waiting-lounges to answer customer queries and provide regular updates.

The role of BA staff is also being regarded as integral to rebuilding the company's damaged reputation. Burns said six of the airline's 22-man comms team were dedicated to keeping staff up to date. A confidential hotline has been set up for staff to voice concerns about the current situation.

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