Editorial: BA flies into a spot of PR turbulence

BA chief executive Bob Ayling is one of Labour’s new friends. Just a few weeks ago he cheerily posed with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in front of the new BA livery. The picture apparently epitomised the new spirit of business and politics in the 1990s. But now BA’s battle with the T&GWU has been billed as 1980s-style management versus 1970s-style trade unionism.

BA chief executive Bob Ayling is one of Labour’s new friends. Just

a few weeks ago he cheerily posed with Deputy Prime Minister John

Prescott in front of the new BA livery. The picture apparently

epitomised the new spirit of business and politics in the 1990s. But now

BA’s battle with the T&GWU has been billed as 1980s-style management

versus 1970s-style trade unionism.



BA operates in a hugely competitive market, and its restructuring will

be crucial to its long term success. But so will its staff. The manner

in which it handles this restructuring will therefore be vitally

important.



The company has an effective PR machine which it uses well. It also

spends heavily on an impressive internal communications programme. But

none of this is sufficient in itself. In everything it does, the company

must be seen to live up to the messages it communicates. Anything less

will reduce all this expensive marketing to hot air.



Ayling is said to believe in keeping his management team ’in a state of

creative apprehension’, according to one former BA man. This style also

appears to colour his approach to industrial relations, and he has

responded aggressively to the threat of strikes. It is a high risk

position, not only because it could escalate the dispute, but because it

could undo years of investment in internal and external

communications.



British Airways need not kow-tow to union pressure, but it should be

aware of the risks of seeking out confrontation. If it wants to be the

world’s favourite airline, it must be seen to act like its staff’s

favourite airline as well - especially when it has difficult issues to

tackle.



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