BA in limbo as allegations bite

British Airways was this week using Brunswick to provide strategic comms counsel as it coped with the reputational fallout from allegations of price-fixing.

As reported on last Thursday, the airline’s head of corporate comms Iain Burns has been given ‘leave of absence’, effectively leaving a power vacuum in the airline’s PR department.

Brunswick is advising BA as its retained financial comms adviser, but told PRWeek it was unable to comment on its work.

BA said a decision on whether to install an interim replacement for Burns – who was unavailable for comment – in its top comms job is yet to be made.

Six senior PROs, all of whom had reported to Burns, and including Burns’ number two – head of news Paul Marsden – are now dealing with press enquiries, and were not giving any comment beyond a statement last Thursday.

BA will need to act quickly to minimise damage to its reputation. One industry expert said: ‘Although BA’s reputation may not suffer among customers, who are primarily influenced by their flight experience, there will be lots of negative talk about BA as a company.’

The affair has already hampered some of BA’s day-to-day press activity. As official airline of the England football team during the World Cup, for example, BA has been running a number of press trips to matches in Germany.

But City AM editor David Parsley, who had agreed to go as BA’s guest to Sunday’s England vs Ecuador game, cancelled after the scandal broke: ‘I felt that it was inappropriate to go given the price-fixing allegations. I go on press trips to get a story, and it was quite clear that I wouldn’t have got one – no one would have been forthcoming on any topic.’

Last Thursday, BA issued a statement that said: ‘The Office of Fair Trading and the United States Department of Justice are investigating alleged cartel activity involving British Airways and other airlines in relation to pricing of passenger air transportation, including fuel surcharges.’

Burns and BA’s commercial director Martin George, a regular company spokesman, were both put on leave.

A tip-off from Virgin Atlantic’s PR team reportedly triggered the probe.

Paul Charles, the former Eurostar PR man who took over Virgin Atlantic’s top comms role in March, told PRWeek he was unable to comment. Charles replaced Paul Moore, who is believed to be currently out of the country, having left the airline to take a career break.

To see how the crisis has affected BA’s reputation, read Reputation Check in next week’s PRWeek.

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