Simon Calder: Take off – with the class of 1961

The man who pays his way

Astrology rarely features in this column; events on Planet Travel are too weird even for the most wayward alliance of stars to predict. This month alone, who would imagine that the Italian post office would take a stake in an airline that is losing £1,000 per minute? Or that the boss of Europe's biggest budget airline would take to Twitter without anyone at Ryanair asking, "Er, Michael, you do know how Twitter works, don't you?"

However, the present stellar alignment in aviation might intrigue you. The three airline bosses who power the majority of the annual Great British Take Off, each flying more than 60 million passengers a year, are now all the same age: 52. Yesterday Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG – which includes British Airways and Iberia of Spain – celebrated his 52nd birthday, making him the same age as his counterparts at easyJet and Ryanair: Carolyn McCall, who turned 52 last month, and Michael O'Leary, who attained the age in March.

Nineteen sixty-one was the Year of the Ox. After decades of ploughing through the business world, the class of '61 have reached the top. And, this month, they have had plenty to say.

If you missed the fascinating Desert Island Discs featuring easyJet's chief executive, Carolyn McCall, retrieve it from the ether at bit.ly/CMcCall. You will learn that the boss of Britain's biggest airline (by passenger numbers) is "Always watching the competition, it doesn't matter where it comes from".

I listened closely to Ms McCall's choice of music in case the songs subconsciously revealed plans for new routes. One choice, "God Only Knows", was unhelpful. But another, "Dancing In The Street", began with the telling line: "Tokyo, South America, Australia, France, Germany, UK, Africa". Two came true this week, with new links next summer from easyJet's main base, Gatwick, to Paris, Brest and Newcastle.

Island of dreams

Carolyn McCall is six months younger than Michael O'Leary. Yet when she joined easyJet from a publishing organisation, he described her as "Some old media luvvie".

Given the Ryanair chief executive's extraordinary encounter with social media this week, he can't claim the same description. After witnessing the Twitter talk, I wrote in The Independent that "Ryanair's first venture into the world of the live Q&A was a shambles from the start".

The following day, Mr O'Leary corrected me: "Obviously you didn't read it properly because we had nothing but laudatory feedback, with me interacting in an open and upfront manner with my customer base, and my customer base feeding me back the love." Decide for yourself at bit.ly/OhLeary.

The Italian job

The third member of the class of '61, Willie Walsh, was as articulate as he was angry when he addressed the Airport Operators' Association conference in London this week.

The first target of BA's and Iberia's boss was Westminster, as he denounced the national foot-dragging on airport capacity: "There will never be a third runway at Heathrow, because it is politically too difficult for the politicians we have today and the politicians we are likely to have in the future. The national interest gets lost on how individual politicians decide it will impact on their chances of getting elected."

Mr Walsh believes Sir Howard Davies' Airport Commission will do "a fantastic piece of work", but fears it will become "The classic 'Yes Minister' solution" – which, he explained, means "Let's form a commission, pretend we're doing something and in the meantime hope it goes away."

Next in his sights: the charges levied by the landlord at his main base, Heathrow airport: "They're entitled to be rewarded for doing something exceptional, but the idea you have to be excessively rewarded for doing your day job is wrong".

The IAG boss was dismissive about the ability of his big rivals, Air France and Lufthansa to give Gulf-based carriers a run for their money.

"I compete with Emirates, I compete with Etihad, I compete with Qatar and I compete profitably with them because I've had to. Whereas my colleagues in other parts of Europe like France and Germany operate in an environment where the Middle East carriers have restricted access. That's why they don't like them, because they want to keep them out." (Alexandre de Juniac, chairman and chief executive of Air France-KLM, is a shade younger at 51, while his counterpart at Lufthansa, Dr Christoph Franz, is 53.)

Willie Walsh reserved his most scathing criticism for the deal that saw Italy's post office deliver a lifeline for Alitalia – and the European Commission's apparent unwillingness to stop "A failing, effectively bankrupt, airline being bailed out so that it can continue to compete".

"It's blatant state aid, so we're opposed to it. Europe has got to stand up and implement the rules that exist. State aid has led to a fragmented industry where the unprofitable airlines with no prospect of becoming profitable continue to drag down airlines that are trying to do the right thing."

Alitalia has not made a profit since the start of the century. In its most recent financial results, the Italian airline revealed it lost £25 for every passenger it carried.

Never mind such unhelpful facts: the board of directors have expressed confidence that "The Company's financial situation will be promptly resolved". Which looks to me like one of the most unlikely predictions of the year.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there