Thursday, December 17, 2009

This Season's Spectacle: British Airways vs.The Grinch

The Winner?
Great move Branson, what a PR boon! And what a windfall. Not only will Virgin gain the public's favour this season over arch enemy British Airways by booking larger planes to accommodate those stranded BA passengers over the 12 days of Christmas, they'll also make fistfuls of cash as icing on the cake. Deck the halls with cash and jolly indeed!

The Loser?
Poor BA. What a nightmare for both the airline and its customers. As if travel isn’t hard enough work to begin with, but leaving passengers stranded over the holidays when stress levels are already on high, is an all-out PR nightmare for British Airways.

Unite, the union involved in the going-on-strike/Christmas-travel-blackmail-scheme has unleashed this fiasco over an issue that UK courts were already preparing to resolve in February 2010. Why now? Because it wants to show its sharp, nasty teeth.

Of course, unions were created to protect workers, but in taking action like this, how are they acting in the best interest of the employees if, in the process, they make proverbial mincemeat of the brand that provides the jobs? How about thinking about the long term consequences of your actions, Unite?

How about a reality check?

A BA long-haul crew member states “There is nothing that breaks my heart more than us going on strike and affecting thousands, if not millions, of people’s lives. But I am fighting for my future. I don’t understand how I can work for a company for 14 years, and yet I am earning less now than I was five years ago.”
Welcome to the rest of the world, chump. We don’t live in the glory days of 2004 anymore. The years of excess are gone. Welcome to an era of lean, FOR EVERYONE. Worker strikes are the ultimate act of selfishness and greed.

It's especially sad because over the years BA has earned a terrific reputation, and in an industry much maligned throughout this recession. Statistically, if complaints are handled properly, studies show that the majority of loyal airline customers will not defect. This strike, however creates as much an obstacle for BA as it does as an emotional roller-coaster ride for its passengers – making it home for the holidays.

Still, amidst the airline industry’s struggle to survive, BA has continued to invest in marketing and consumer enagement to protect its brand. Earlier this year, the airline developed and launched two social media initiatives to make the brand appear more up to date and exciting and to create a network of bloggers and online communities around the globe. They have been proactive in protecting their brand and this could very well increase the chance that the strike could have the opposite effect that the union and employees were counting on. Of course, they're hoping the public will be vexed with BA, but at a time when everyone is pulling in their belt straps to keep afloat (or in the air!), striking employees who are making peoples’ lives miserable are seen as being ungrateful and greedy buggers - the grinches stealing Christmas. Ironically, consumers will end up hating BA staff, not the airline. Maggie Thatcher’s reign springs to mind.

We all know that businesses are reducing costs in order survive. By trimming operating costs, airlines can keep their fare prices lower; this is a win-win for passengers and the airlines. Striking workers is not.

At the end of day, everyone loves an underdog. If BA's efforts (short of giving in to terrorists, so to speak) are seen as fair and if they are working with disgruntled passengers, managing their communications in a very clear, honest and transparent manner, the toll to BA’s brand mightn’t be so bad after all.

In the meantime, good luck with making it home for the holidays and no holiday wishes for any striking crews. That is just bad news, at any time of year!

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