How will the deal really affect the operations of our national airline?
...and puts the questions every customer wants to ask to BA chief executive Willie Walsh
Saturday 14 November 2009
The company letterhead will show an address in Spain – but in reality the whole outfit will be run from London, and you'll be the dominant player. It's a takeover rather than a merger, isn't it?
AThis is a merger of equals, which is reflected in the make-up of the new group board. There will be five directors from British Airways, five from Iberia and four independent directors. The management team will be split between British Airways and Iberia executives. The holding company will be incorporated in Spain but listed in the UK. And while the headquarters will be in London, I will also have an office in Madrid. We are also determined that both airlines keep their separate brand identities to reflect their different heritages.
Virgin Atlantic has already complained that this will give you unfair dominance at Heathrow. Will you have to give up slots to get this deal past the competition authorities?
There is absolutely no reason why this would be the case. Iberia's only Heathrow slots are for flights to Madrid, which are already part of a joint operation with British Airways that has been fully approved by the competition authorities. Virgin's point does not make sense.
You say "British Airways' customers will gain access to up to 59 new destinations, of which 13 will be in Latin America". Bearing in mind the Oneworld alliance, in what sense have these destinations been hitherto inaccessible?
As members of the Oneworld alliance, British Airways and Iberia codeshare on more than 30 routes around the world and have reciprocal frequent flyer programmes. However, an alliance is a long way from a merger. In a merged business, British Airways customers would find it easier and more convenient to book and travel to Iberia destinations that currently we do not serve.
The two airlines are very different in in-flight service. Will you reduce your economy-class to match Iberia's no-frills policy?
British Airways and Iberia will retain their individual brands. However, the benefit of the merger is that each airline will be able to draw on the other's strengths to offer an improved service for customers. Iberia has some excellent products. We will learn from each other.
The Conservatives have ruled out a third runway for Heathrow. Does this mean London's next runway is going to be in Spain?
We have made it very clear that a third runway is crucial to ensure that the UK's air links do not fall behind those available in the other major European economies. Heathrow is currently full. However, if a decision is made not to expand it, then it is natural for us to look for growth possibilities elsewhere. Madrid added two new runways two years ago. There is spare capacity there, which means there are opportunities for us.
Meanwhile, this deal doesn't change the fact that you're facing the prospect of a Christmas strike. What advice do you have for people who are booked to fly away with BA for the holidays – or who are considering buying a flight some time soon?
We are in discussions with union leaders, all our flights are operating normally and it is very much business as usual.
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