Simon Calder: Saga has been a huge boost for BA's rivals
Saturday 13 March 2010
Stress, unpredictability and exhaustion: that's what working as BA cabin crew can involve.
And thanks to their union, it is also what around three million passengers have involuntarily experienced even before a strike has begun. Since the union, Unite, acquired an overwhelming mandate for industrial action, the term "flight confirmed" on a British Airways ticket has looked increasingly meaningless.
For easyJet, Virgin Atlantic and every other airline in competition with British Airways, Christmas has lasted for almost three glorious months. They started picking up BA's passengers on 14 December last year, when Unite triumphantly announced a 12-day strike aimed at grounding British Airways over Christmas and New Year. Even though that was overturned by a High Court judge, the threat of industrial action has continued to persuade those with a pressing business trip, family event or dream holiday to adopt the ABBA principle: Anybody But British Airways.
Airlines are inordinately susceptible to even a hint of industrial action: whenever there is a whiff of a possible walkout, travel agents and tour operators switch clients to other carriers rather than risk the stress and expense of rebooking if a strike is called.
In no previous dispute has the threat of a stoppage dragged on for so long, jeopardising travellers' plans and eroding the British Airways brand. Since December, Unite has wrought massive financial damage on the forward bookings and reputation of an airline already losing £1m a day.
In any normal industry such attrition would be commercially catastrophic. But BA's management knows that aviation bears little relation to real life. The airline's dominance at Heathrow – the world's favourite airport, believe it or not – makes BA armour-plated. While some angry passengers will switch permanently to other airlines, most are fickle enough to be lured back by the deep discounts BA will offer once the dispute is settled.
When will that be, and what shape will the ceasefire take? I may be wrong – not for the first time – but I would place money on it being over by Easter. British Airways has had three months to watch its rivals poach customers, but it has also had three months to recruit what the union calls "scab labour" to run a respectable operation.
Time for a showdown at the BA corral. Every offer the airline has made in the past year is now off the table. Any steward or stewardess who fails to report at Heathrow or Gatwick for their rostered flight next weekend risks losing all their travel privileges, forever. And the next time BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, meets Unite officials, he intends to be accepting the union's surrender.
Like the Schleswig-Holstein Question, everyone has lost track of what this dispute is about. The cabin crew are understandably resentful of more arduous duties, but the cost of maintaining solidarity for a cause that looks elusive – if not already lost – is sky high.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Thailand tourism video Love En Route criticised for featuring Instagram stalker
The Atlas of Beauty: Photographer travels around the world to capture cultural diversity through stunning portraits of women
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
Chief executive of Malaysia Airlines: The toughest job in travel?
The 10 Best hiking boots
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...
£23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...
£26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...
£18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...