A flying feud: BA boss and Branson go to war

Willie Walsh says Virgin Atlantic chief’s opinions are 'irrelevant'

Almost a decade of sniping between Willie Walsh, boss of British Airways, and Sir Richard Branson at Virgin Atlantic boiled over yesterday when the Irishman launched an extraordinary attack on his bitter rival, branding his opinions “irrelevant” and saying he had no admiration for the serial entrepreneur.

The latest spat comes after Mr Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline vowed to appeal the European competition regulator’s approval of the takeover of BMI by BA-owner International Airlines Group, for £172.5m. Sir Richard claims the deal will “cut consumer choice and screw the travelling public”.

Virgin says BA’s acquisition of small rival bmi will “cause serious competitive harm at Heathrow” and give Mr Walsh’s company “total market dominance”.

But at the World Travel & Tourism Council conference in Tokyo yesterday, Mr Walsh said: “I’m not surprised [by Branson’s objections]; I’d be surprised if he hadn’t done it. But what he says is largely irrelevant as we have the approval and we’re not in any way going to be distracted by anything Branson says.”

Mr Walsh rejected claims that there is personal animosity between the pair, having only met him on “two or three occasions.” However, he also dismissed Mr Branson’s achievements with Virgin Atlantic: “I’m not one of his admirers. I don’t see him as someone who deserves my admiration, other people have done more in the airline industry.”

The pair’s feud kicked off in 2006, when a tip-off from Virgin led to US and UK competition authorities investigating British Airways for alleged price-fixing. Virgin escaped without penalty for blowing the whistle, whilst BA was fined £271.5m.

Speaking of the case, Mr. Walsh said of Sir Richard: “I wouldn’t forgive anybody for what they did there.” Asked if he did not like the entrepreneur, he responded: “I’ve made no secret of the fact. I don’t think he likes me either.” He said he did not see “any value in the Virgin brand. It’s not a global brand.”

In the wake of the price-fixing scandal, Sir Richard claimed to have discussed price-fixing during an edition of the BBC’s Money Programme. Mr Walsh disputed this, saying “I still cannot recall ‘Honest’ Richard Branson giving any personal interviews about the issue.” But Sir Richard responded: “It is no wonder that BA is in the state it is in if Willie Walsh has the time to watch past editions of the Money Programme.”

The duo’s bad blood erupted again in 2008, when the Irishman accused Sir Richard of sounding like a “cracked record” over his continuing opposition to BA’s transatlantic tie-up with American Airlines and Virgin’s “No Way BA/AA” campaign. He said: “I’ve heard it all before. The times have changed and I suggest he moves with them as well.” BA later won approval for that deal.

The dispute intensified that year over the botched opening of Heathrow’s Terminal Five. Sir Richard claimed that Virgin Atlantic had enjoyed a strong start to its financial year thanks to “ongoing” problems at T5. BA responded by saying the terminal was functioning well and it was “not surprising if other airlines are envious”.

The only area on which Sir Richard and Mr Walsh are in agreement is in their mutual attack on the Coalition government’s decision to increase air passenger duty by 8 per cent this month. In Tokyo yesterday Mr Walsh added: “I think the exchequer is damaging the economy rather than helping it. We’ve called for an independent [economic] assessment and that they haven’t done that reinforces my view – if the government weren’t afraid of what the assessment would find then they would do it.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen