BA chiefs fly into heavy flak at AGM

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The Independent Online

British Airways endured a bumpy ride at its annual general meeting in London yesterday, after shareholders voiced a series of grievances including the airline's ban on the supermodel Naomi Campbell, and called for chief executive Willie Walsh's head over Terminal 5's troubled opening.

The chairman, Martin Broughton, admitted that BA's extra fuel costs would surpass £1bn this year, and the airline was "up to our necks in perhaps the biggest crisis the aviation industry has ever known".

One investor said Mr Walsh should have resigned over the Terminal 5 affair, which instead saw two directors depart. He said: "Why were two long-standing junior managers dismissed when he is still here?"

The shareholder turned on Mr Broughton, saying: "The chief executive should be considered for replacement, and so, given your complacency, should you."

The chairman and the chief executive apologised for T5's opening, which another shareholder called a "disaster". Mr Walsh said: "We made mistakes and we let people down. Though the mistakes were by no means the sole preserve of BA, we held our hands up, we took responsibility and we apologised." The executives added that it was now working well, and that they received daily letters and emails praising the terminal.

Mr Walsh admitted that breaking even this year would be "a considerable achievement," adding that the economic conditions meant BA would probably scrap the planned 2 per cent boost in flights this year. However, he pledged: "We will not cut flights that our customers most value."

Mr Broughton said BA continued to talk to American Airlines about potential closer co-operation, adding that the economic climate could well lead to more airline mergers.

Other grievances aired included an employee who said he had been racially abused because he was Scottish.

One shareholder demanded that BA lift its ban on Naomi Campbell, who was arrested after a row over her luggage on a flight to Los Angeles in April. The shareholder said she should be welcomed back because she was highly regarded by the Afro-Caribbean community. Fellow investors disagreed, booing and heckling.

Mr Broughton said: "Anyone who acts like Naomi Campbell acted on that plane will be arrested, will be charged and will be banned. I don't care what colour they are."

Another shareholder called for a new airport to be built "somewhere along the Thames". Mr Walsh doubted anyone would invest in a project that would cost up to £35bn.