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Pulling the Rug out From Under Everybody

The current crisis enveloping airlines and air travel has provoked differing reactions from different people, as one might expect. There is however, a common thread running through all those affected, no matter what line of work they may be in.

Your local stores (other than food and similar outlets), forced to close and possibly some not re-opening; other businesses shut with nobody knowing for how long; once viable and going concerns suddenly with no income and no prospect of regaining it for an undetermined time - and airlines have been exceptionally hard hit.

Above: Are businesses generally departing to nowhere or is there an emergency exit from the worldwide shutdown? (Kevan James)

Commercial aviation has been taking a kicking in recent times from climate change activists who appear to want it shut down permanently with no idea of the consequences worldwide. Consequences that have implications for everybody, including the fast, efficient carriage of medical supplies as well as a brief break from the normal routine of work. Yes, the humble holiday - whilst it might seem a luxury to some, everybody needs a break now and again. Yet how could somebody take a couple of weeks off to visit their family and friends in Australia if they can’t fly there? One can hardly take six months off work for such a trip there and back by sea.

Suddenly the climate change dream – or is it a mirage? – has become real, and with it, those consequences - including consequences for those who work for Virgin Atlantic Airways and British Airways. Richard Branson may not be your favourite cup of tea but for all those tweeting their dislike of him, stop a moment and think. Take a minute to consider the lives of those who will lose their jobs if Virgin Atlantic is closed down. And do the same for those employed by British Airways if the number of redundancies indicated becomes more than that.

Read the comments of a British Airways captain’s wife and see if you still want to shut everything down.

'My husband is a senior British Airways (BA) captain with over 30 loyal, devoted years of service with the airline. Middle class, solidly Home Counties, and precisely the person whose gentle tones you long to hear upon boarding a British Airways aircraft at the end of an arduous business trip in some moth-eaten corner of the world. As soon as his mellow, Radio 2 voice, and his “Good evening and ladies and gentlemen “ welcome aboard announcement comes across the PA system, you feel safe and warm, cocooned in the knowledge that for the next however many hours, you are secure in the hands of a consummate professional and his crew.

Your subconscious immediately tries to picture him: a man in his late forties or early fifties, who, at the end of the flight, will no doubt fire up his trusty Volvo estate and drive home to his wife, 2.4 children, and ageing Labrador or Golden Retriever. You might even meet him for a pint in the village local that evening.

You recline into your premium cabin seat, order a G&T, and in your head at least, you’re already back in Blighty as the careworn palm trees whip past your window and the plane rolls along the runway on its take-off path. That’s my old man, the quintessential BA skipper.

Slice him in half, and you’ll discover the BA logo running through him like a stick of Brighton rock.

I cannot begin to list how many times he has gone above and beyond for his colleagues, passengers and employer; always the first to board, and the last to disembark, regardless of how exhausted he might be; a passenger in need of assistance? He’s there like a shot; a late wheelchair on arrival back at base? He’ll send everyone home and stay with the passenger until one eventually turns up, which these days can sometimes be an hour or more, not the ideal conclusion to a long night flight; crew member taken ill down route? He’ll accompany them to hospital and keep in regular contact until he’s satisfied that they’re okay and all relevant parties have been notified. Duty; honour; responsibility; decency; solid British Airways characteristics - or at least they used to be.

BA is his life, and in spite of me telling him for years that his spaniel-like fidelity would always go unrecognised (how right I was), he has stubbornly put his unswerving duty to ‘The Company’ ahead of any other commitments to family or friends. Now we fear the worst, and fully expect that Messrs [Willie] Walsh and [Alex] Cruz will stab him in the back in grateful recognition of his many years of blind loyalty.

COVID-19 is manna from heaven for the International Airlines Group (IAG) and the BA boards: an opportunity for the company to divest itself of those employees who still enjoy the relative luxury of a half-decent contract and working conditions. Make no mistake. Henceforth, ALL British Airways employees will be working on minimum salary contracts, with little job security and the cheapest and worst working conditions legally allowable.

“Don’t like it, Captain? Shove off and we’ll have you replaced within a month...” Fills one with pride to Fly the Flag, does it not?

BA has the cash reserves to come to a better and infinitely more humane solution than to sack 12,000 employees who would, I am in no doubt, be prepared to work for a reduced salary, thereby reducing costs and meeting the shortfall by sharing out the workload. The snag with that plan, however, is that IAG, Willie Walsh and Alex Cruz would lose this never-to-be-repeated-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which offers them the chance to get rid of their more expensive employees under the cover of crisis. It’s a gift horse not to be ignored. Equally, for BA to accept a very cheap government loan would open the door for Virgin, it’s most bitter of rivals, to do the same, thereby giving it the opportunity to find possible salvation. Walsh and Cruz have therefore concluded that, rather than give their UK opponents any chance of survival, it is preferable to throw their most loyal people to the wolves, and then replace them in a few years with far cheaper labour. Two birds with one stone and job done. Management bonuses and Veuve Clique all round.

And there, in a nutshell, is the brutal reality of the “we’ll come out of this a better society”, post-COVID world. Gone are the gentlemanly days of Lords King and Marshall, who took it upon themselves to actually give a damn about their employees, and who, in return, were admired and respected by the workforce. Today it is the Wolves of Harmondsworth in charge; they have scented blood and are going in for the kill. Far from emerging from COVID-19 into a kinder, more understanding place, we will discover that the vultures and hyenas who run our biggest companies will use today’s climate to slice, dice, and butcher their best people in the manner of the most brutal Wuhan wet market.

If you thought things became cutthroat after 2008-9, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Bottom dollar business, to hell with humanity, and let’s screw whoever we can, (as we have for many years), only now, we have the perfect excuse.

Morals? Decency? Respect? Only if there’s a profit to be made. I leave it to you to decide whether that is a reality which you wish to inhabit. Or a flag you wish to fly.

The advertising strap-line used by British Airways once said, “We’ll take more care of you”

Judge that for yourself.

In a letter to the head of Industrial Relations at the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), John Moore and seen by KJM Today, British Airways’ Director of Flight Operations Al Bridger, wrote that the ‘impact on British Airways and the industry in general is like no other previous crisis we have gone through before’.

In this, Mr Bridger is quite correct. All airlines – every single one, worldwide - have had their ability to earn their income and pay their way literally, and forcibly, removed from them by the actions of governments. Yet it is not governments who have to pick up the tab. As The Aviation Oracle has pointed out elsewhere on the pages on KJM Today, those making such decisions are well insulated from the effects of their decisions to stop the world working. It is taxpayers who must pay the bill, either directly in the immediate term by way of money passed on to financially bereft businesses, or indirectly through increases in the welfare bill.

Above - Lufthansa, traditionally one of the strongest airlines worldwide, are reported to be considering declaring themselves insolvent, rather than take a German government loan (Kevan James).

There is yet a third aspect to this, at least in the UK; throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, everybody has been exhorted to ‘Protect the NHS’ (the National Health Service). Yet is it not the job of the NHS to protect the UK’s citizens from illness rather than the other way around? How is the NHS funded? It gets its huge budget from the taxes levied on earnings from those like the BA captain mentioned above and everybody else. Those taxes are not going to be paid by the unemployed, whether they were previously so by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Flybe or the hardware shop on the corner.

Yet there is more! Like government ministers, NHS management is well-fed financially, at both middle and senior level. The NHS has more management than any other. It is a bloated and inefficient organisation that has failed to provide its front-line staff – those Doctors, Nurses, Porters, Cleaners and others who have worked tirelessly to help those who are ill – with the right equipment. It has stopped treating pre-existing conditions for which people desperately need it, and even before the Covid-19 outbreak, routinely cancelled operations, sometimes at the last minute, leaving people in pain and waiting, waiting, waiting for help – help that never seems to come.

NHS management does not and will not pay the price, and neither will those at the top end of business management. Neither will government and its Ministers (and their equivalents elsewhere).

British Airways may feel that they have no choice but to lay off large numbers of its workforce but there are always alternatives – one just has to look for them. Willie Walsh and Alex Cruz may well wish to see the back of Virgin Atlantic, that is in the nature of business but laying off its own workers and not seeking help from the cause of the present problems – in the case of UK companies, the UK government – is not the way to go about it. The Virgin Group are now looking for a buyer for Virgin Atlantic Airways. Will they find one? In the present circumstances it must be considered unlikely; after all, who in their right mind (and who has millions and more in ready cash to splurge) is going to buy a company that has no income?

Governments have caused this crisis – governments must sort it out. Not front-line staff at British Airways, Virgin Atlantic or any other employer, large and small, left without their business.

© Kevan James 2020

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