London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing – 21 June 2021

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Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways
Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways (Image Credit: Aer Lingus)

Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 21 June 2021.

Sunday Times Interview With Sean Doyle

Corporate PR is all about setting out a narrative and, where necessary, getting your side of the story out first before someone else.

Virgin Atlantic used to the master of this. When the airline was in the ascendancy everything was presented through the prism of “bringing much needed competition to British Airways”.

When a business loses control of the narrative, it is hard to regain it. A case in point was BA’s botched implementation of Buy On Board on short haul flights in 2017.

As soon as national newspapers picked up the story, relatively trivial details such as the removal of flowers in Club World washrooms suddenly became newsworthy. Alex Cruz became a lightning rod for criticism and BA had to fight a rearguard action to try and change the story about the airline.

It has to be said that Alex Cruz didn’t always help himself. Negative stories about a possible removal of free hot meals in long haul economy could easily have been avoided if he’d simply said “We have no plans to do that.” rather than “We might do it.” There’s a reason why company executives are not allowed anywhere near a microphone until they’ve had media training from a former journalist.

If you read the interview with current CEO Sean Doyle in yesterday’s Sunday Times Magazine you’d be forgiven for thinking the airline was on the cusp of entering a new era with a focus on excellence and a premium experience for all.

This is all perfectly laudable but almost every initiative mentioned (Club Suite, expanded premium economy cabins, new in flight entertainment systems, catering by Do& Co, resolution of customer queries on “first contact”) were already in train under Alex Cruz.

There is no escaping the fact that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the airline’s financial health. Decisions will have to be made in the coming years that will determine the airline’s course for the rest of the decade.

This is not to play down Sean’s strengths – he is clearly very articulate and knows the airline extremely well.

But it is one thing for Sean to put a Concorde nose cone on a Terminal 5 lounge terrace. It will be a considerably harder feat to persuade a heavily indebted IAG to commit tens of millions of pounds to refurbish the Heathrow lounges, which they do need. Or to order Airbus A321LR & XLR aircraft to rebuild the long haul network.

Another big strategic decision will be the airline’s presence at Gatwick. Interest was reignited this weekend following a Sunday Telegraph report that BA may pull out of Gatwick entirely. Some six weeks ago, IAG CEO Luis Gallego said that group was reviewing its presence there. Quite way the Telegraph has picked up on this now, citing “industry sources” isn’t clear – unless it has been leaked to try and bounce somebody into action.

BA Route Network Updates

Staying with BA, the airline is due to launch its new routes from London City airport to Guernsey and Jersey this Friday 25 June.

At Heathrow, BA returns to Warsaw on Wednesday 23 June, Riyadh on Saturday 26 June and Newquay on Sunday 27 June.

The planned launch of new summer seasonal routes to Cluj-Napoca, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Riga has been pushed back to mid July and may well move again.

Over at Gatwick, BA has also recently restarted limited flights to Punta Cana.

Farewell To The BA Source

The independent website The BA Source has announced that it is closing at the end of June. As is its sister website for Virgin Atlantic The VS Source.

It has for more than ten years been an invaluable resource for keeping track of BA’s fleet and daily ad hoc aircraft movements and it will be missed by many.

Also of note this week:

Airlines and travel companies are planning a “day of action” outside Parliament this Wednesday to pressure the UK government to lift international travel restrictions. (Reuters)

Heathrow Airport publishes guidance on its planned £5 terminal drop off charge from 1 October 2021. (Heathrow)

Taking a flight on an electric powered Velis Electro aircraft with “micro airline” NEBO Air. (Financial Times)

Late post publication updates:

[Reserved for updates throughout the day]

Norwegian has appointed Geir Karlsen as its new CEO with immediate effect. The former CFO replaces Jacob Schram after the board voted to end his tenure as CEO last night. (Norwegian)

The CAA has published traffic data for UK domestic and international routes for May 2021.

Airport Coordination Ltd has submitted its response to a consultation by the Department for Transport on the waiver of 80/20 slot rules for the Winter 2021 season. It proposes a lower slot usage threshold of 70%, slots being handed back no earlier than four weeks before their intended use and a limit of 50% on the number of slots that can be handed back by an airline before the start of the season. This is to stop “slot blocking”, particularly by airlines that have suspended operations at airports, and to allow for new entrants. (ACL)

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