New mood signals a change in the air

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The Independent Online
British Airways did not actually use the words "New Labour, new airline yesterday," but the implication was unequivocal yesterday, as the world's favourite carrier launched its new pounds 60m image.

At a media jamboree billed as the world's biggest ever satellite link- up, BA's chief executive, Bob Ayling, painted a less "arrogant", less "self-important" image for the airline, linked to a new mood in the nation. "There's a noticeable note of change in the air. There's a new air about the country. We even beat my friends at Qantas at their great game, which is now our great game."

It took John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, to ram home the analogy. "We can all think of major international companies which have stood still and declined. You have to be prepared to change, to reposition. Dare I say it, New Labour saw that," he said at the launch.

But as he spoke, "Old Labour" flexed its muscles as the Transport and General Workers Union sent out strike ballot papers to 5,000 ground staff at Heathrow and Manchester. The dispute is over BA's plans to sell off or out-source departments such as catering and aircraft servicing.

BA claimed the unions were going back on a landmark deal buying out restrictive working practices at Heathrow. Mr Ayling said the strike ballot was very disappointing. "Our new identity is about jobs; it's about training. People who talk about a 'virtual airline' don't know what they're talking about."

The re-launch, backed by a pounds 6bn investment programme over the next three years, is one of the boldest by any global company. Gone is the conservative logo used since before privatisation in 1984. BA's new identity positions the airline as "a citizen of the world," recognising that 60 per cent of passengers come from outside the UK.

More than 50 different designs representing ethnic communities will grace the tailfins of BA's 300 aircraft, with only the seven Concordes still using a variation on the Union flag. "Airlines are extraordinarily chauvinistic. This is our attempt to break out of the chauvinism of the past," Mr Ayling explained.

The London design consultants Newell and Sorrell spent two years on the concept, which will continue through check-in desks, ticket wallets and even staff outfits. They tracked down over 2,000 artists and craft workers from Hong Kong to Poland and Southern Africa to Cornwall.