The jumbo jet age began in 1970. By doubling the seats available on a single aircraft, the Boeing 747 changed the game of aviation. The low-cost revolution of the past 15 years has done much the same for European travellers. Above all, the removal of barriers to entry and the introduction of (admittedly imperfect) competition has enabled aviation to flourish, while broadening the travel horizons for millions. As home to several great airlines – and the planet's leading aviation hub, London – the UK has been in the vanguard of this transformation.
No longer are national carriers run for the benefit of their staff. Or are they? The evidence from the bitter dispute between British Airways and the cabin-crew union, Unite, suggests a legacy of industrial relations lunacy still prevails.
The score in this unsavoury conflict is currently 2-2. In two ballots, cabin crew have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike in protest against reduced staffing levels. But BA has seen a brace of High Court decisions go its way. The first outlawed, on a technicality, a strike that would have wiped out the airline's Christmas and New Year schedules; the second rejected Unite's demand to rescind the roster changes.
The longer the dispute drags on, the more emerges about the anachronistic world of BA's "Inflight Customer Experience" department. Two of the cabin-crew contracts deployed by Unite to support its latest High Court case date from the Sixties – an era when BEA and BOAC were inefficient offshoots of the Air Ministry.
How can two notable national organisations possibly have got themselves into this state? Because their attention is elsewhere. Unite is riven with infighting as the former T&G and Amicus factions scrap for supremacy, while BA is focused on forging closer links with American Airlines and Iberia of Spain. Meanwhile, the longer that British Airways and the union, Unite, fail to agree on how to reduce the sky-high cost of the airline's cabin crew, the more irrelevant BA will become.
Fortunately, in the Super Jumbo age, the travelling public has plenty of choice.