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
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?