British Airways’ (BA) move into budget flights has been dogged by
First came accusations of predatory pricing and now charges of
misleading the public by raising prices. Have BA and Go, its independent
operating subsidiary, got their PR strategy wrong? Is this a case where
you can lose the PR battle but win the commercial war?
Reviewing the coverage, BA has failed to convey its product key messages
convincingly. It’s true that early coverage reported the pounds 100
flight offer was introductory, but this appearing in the bottom half of
articles is the media relations equivalent to ’small print’. In reality
Go’s pricing strategy is now similar to its competitors, but again it
failed to convey this.
BA should have seen the cross-subsidy allegations coming a mile off.
Its strategy appears to be to brazen this issue out, with a strong,
suspicious tone to the coverage being the result. Opting for a softer,
more transparent approach, say volunteering to publish certain figures
and statements, would have won more media support. Meanwhile
Easyjet - which is taking legal action against BA - and other budget
airlines are playing out a text book lobbying strategy, running PR rings
BA appears to be playing a long commercial game, assuming it will win
the court case, customers aren’t interested or don’t understand and
cheap flights backed by a trusted brand will sell.
The implications of Easyjet’s court case are lost without at least top
line knowledge of aviation history and European competition law. Plus in
this sector of the market, price is king. Customers have historically
bought cheap flights today, unknowingly financially voting for
potentially higher fares tomorrow.
In the short term, Go’s pounds 2.5 million worth of bookings in two
months cannot be argued with. But long-term, BA’s current public
relations strategy will be costly. Even if it does not pay heavily now
by losing the court case, this episode is another debit on their PR
Go also lost a golden opportunity to use PR to differentiate itself from
BA and its parent’s old, heavy-handed PR style. It may yet have the
opportunity to look back with regret.