Peter Dunkin, aviation advisor and executive coach, finds a few uncanny similarities between Qantas’ current troubles and BA’s strike-strewn recent past.
Last weekend, around 70,000 Qantas passengers were disrupted and 600 flights cancelled at a cost of £13 million per day to the airline. Air France cabin crew are also taking action, and Lufthansa pilots went on strike last year. BA’s two year dispute, settled earlier this year, resulted in 22 days of strikes and cost the airline £150 million.
Damage to brand integrity is self evident, and BA has since embarked on an impressive campaign to regain its fine reputation. Where airline alliances or code shares are involved, a striking airline will also harm the brands and customers of its partner airlines. For example, BA passengers suffered cancelled flights where the operating airline was Qantas, KLM will be affected by Air France and so on.
And what of the Governments’ role in all this? Australian and French Ministers have stepped in immediately realising the potential damage to the country’s reputation. Perhaps those countries have more effective bodies for handling industrial disputes. However, I would suggest that British governments have had a tendency for a hands-off approach when protecting national assets and reputation.
There is an uncanny resemblance between the recent Qantas headlines and the earlier BA dispute. It’s not just the fact that the Qantas CEO and previous BA CEO are both Dublin-born former Aer Lingus employees! But are we again seeing the macho management versus union militancy approach?
Are powerful egos getting in the way of common sense negotiation? How can relationships get to a stage where both sides are willing to risk the destruction of the business? In an industry where command and control leadership is common, other styles of communication can be more appropriate.
Selecting the right people as your negotiators is also important. The BA dispute was quickly resolved following changes of personnel at the airline and at the Unite Union. In a previous article for ABTN, I told a story from the early 1980s about an initiative lead by Delta Air Lines cabin crew to help the airline through financial difficulties. Over 85% of the airline’s employees voluntarily reduced their salaries and bought the company its first new B767 aircraft!
In these serious times, businesses of course need to cut staff costs. Savings can easily be measured, as can the cost of strikes, but how good are we at recognising and measuring the value that our people already do and potentially could give?
It is perhaps no coincidence that BA and Virgin’s current advertising campaigns revere, if not idolise, its pilots and cabin crew. For the sake of our industry and customers, let us hope that the leaders of Qantas, Air France, and others can find a speedy resolution to their industrial woes.
Founder of Aviationwise, Peter Dunkin was Etihad's first UK general manager and worked for BA for 17 years.