Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Transfer of the Blog

With the conclusion of ABAP's initial campaign to amend the unfairness of the new Staff Travel scheme, this blog is transferring to the ABAP website at:


Please bookmark the site in your web browser.

Alternatively you can access the blog there directly by following this address:


Accordingly, although this blog will remain available, comment on it is closed.

Finally, supporters will know that the Staff Travel Watch website is at:


That website will remain open indefinitely and lead the campaign against the injustices of BA towards its pensioners; please keep a watch on the website.

In the meantime, may I thank everyone for their support and participation. The campaign may have failed in its original objectives but it has flushed out those who would seek to support BA against its pensioners and who have sought positions of influence on the various bodies to pursue agendas not conducive to the interests of retired staff.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Legal Opinion

Report by the ABAP Staff Travel Campaign Working Group (STCWG)
Last December the STCWG - consisting of BA pensioners around the world - began the campaign to get three changes made to the proposals contained in ST09. Contrary to the assertion promulgated by certain BA managers, we did not seek the wholesale abandonment of the document which we recognised has some attractive benefits - for some pensioners.

We sought then and continue to seek now, three simple and relatively minor changes:

1 the removal from existing pensioners of the limitation on their entitlement to Staff Travel to their period of service;

2 the change in the Staff Travel entitlements of widows and widowers of existing pensioners;

3 the continuation of the right of existing pensioners to bank Long Service awards they have earned.

On 1st March 2008 the STCWG made an appeal for contributions to a Fighting Fund to support these objectives. The response to date has been overwhelming and demonstrates how widespread the feeling is against the parts of ST09 which unfairly and unnecessarily affect a few thousand elderly pensioners.

Since British Airways was relying so heavily on its assertion that it had a legal right to make these changes, the Working Group decided a legal opinion should be sought to examine the extent to which BA could rely on the law to force these punitive and pointless changes on us and which established tenets of British law limited what they wished to do.

The QC’s initial opinion was received last week and is being studied by the Working Group and our lawyers. As a result certain questions arising have been put back to the QC and her team and we are optimistic of the outcome.

ABAP has a track record of successful actions at law against BA. Perhaps personnel changes since the end of the last decade mean that none of BA’s present Management recalls personally that ABAP won its case against BA in the High Court. More recently we successfully prevented BA from combining the two pension schemes - a move that would have benefited no-one except BA and its shareholders.

But not all disputes are best settled in court. We knew that when we embarked on this campaign and said as much from the outset. That Staff Travel is not a contractual benefit has never been in question, but merely because BA claimed the right to vary the terms of staff travel - which most of our letters of severance or retirement reminded us it could do - did that also mean BA could withdraw entirely a benefit given since the 1930's - and could it do so in a way that affected some people differently to others? Could it oblige people who because of their age and circumstances to use a computer to access the information and any benefits to which they are entitled?

Our brief to the QC was to examine several aspects raised by ABAP members, by former very senior staff, and by supporters around the world and to also give us the benefit of her experience on aspects of relevant law which we’d not considered.

What is clear is that British Airways has been underhand and shifty in every aspect of this matter. From the fatuous "consultations" which were in fact secret briefings started three years ago under legally enforceable confidentiality agreements with chosen members of the unelected Retired Staff Liaison Council, right up to the "publication" of ST09, the defining document, British Airways has sought to obfuscate. This document wasn’t sent openly to each pensioner in the way that BA is obliged to tell us of changes to our pensions, but slipped into an FAQ section on a website which only pensioners with access to the Internet and a password could read. Months later some of the terms were also published in Touchdown, but we know that not every pensioner receives Touchdown.

BA has every reason not to attract publicity because the effects of ST09 on some of the oldest pensioners will mean a complete change in the way they spend the rest of their lives. In fact it isn’t justified on any sensible ground - and certainly not on the dishonest claims made by BA that it will "save money". It is simply a selective, punitive change that will adversely affect a group of pensioners whilst making no difference whatsoever to the bottom line of the company’s accounts.

There is simply no logic to the move; on the contrary, in exchange for amending the three clauses of ST09 affecting a few thousand pensioners, BA would gain the support of all 47,000 pensioners who would feel it had done "the right thing".

In the next few weeks the STCWG will publish the next stage of its campaign. It will involve every pensioner and every member of staff for if BA succeeds in screwing a couple of thousand helpless pensioners out of a few subload flights they thought they’d earned over the years, where will they stop?

If you’re a pensioner, support us because this fight is the one before BA tries to steal your pension again. Don’t think they won’t try if given the opportunity.

If you’re a current staff member, support us because you will be a pensioner one day - maybe, if it suits British Airways, sooner than you thought.

A similar document to this has been posted on the ABAP website and is being sent in hard copy to all ABAP "postal" members. If any pensioners or present staff have friends or relatives in BA and can get copies of the document posted on all noticeboards it will help immensely.

Friday, 1 August 2008


We live in a world besotted with the speed of communication. If you’re not getting your Internet at 40 Mbs per second then you’re being short-changed. If you don’t get the latest news on your Blackberry within five seconds of it happening, you’re out of touch.

But if you deal with bureaucracies or, perish the thought, lawyers, you’ll find that quaint Dickensian ways still live on - and thrive.

Which is a long way of saying I’m sorry that there’s been no news to give you about the Staff Travel Campaign. I could have filled these pages with explanations of what has caused the delay but frankly why bore you? Time enough when I publish the dénouement for those titbits of idiocy - titbits which sadly include ABAP itself.

The only note of topical interest might be found in today’s pronouncement by the Man Responsible at British Airways who is quoted in The Independent as saying of the proposed BA+Iberia merger, "If people are concerned about jobs, I have to say that long-term job security can best be achieved through strengthening BA through a merger like this."

Two things might strike you as significant.

First is the conjunction "If..." - only the Man Responsible (who you’ll recall fired two others to expiate that responsibility) could imagine that in these times especially there are people who aren’t concerned about their jobs.

Secondly, note that the Man Responsible doesn’t say whether the jobs of which he is so certain are British jobs at BA or Spanish jobs at BA.

One thing on which you may put next month’s pension with certainty is that the job of the Man Responsible isn’t in jeopardy.

Fact: Spain has the highest unemployment rate in Europe and 5.8% inflation.

So, when you next telephone Retirement Services or Staff Travel, don’t be surprised if the person dealing with you sounds like Manuel from Fawlty Towers - it probably is.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

British Airways Managers - inept or scared?

Two stories emerged yesterday which again show BA’s cavalier attitude towards its passengers and its inability to spot when it’s time for a quick and genuine apology or an urgent review of the product.

The first story concerned two economy class offloads and was a story that should have dealt with by a junior manager, ideally at the station where it occurred. Instead the two offloads turned out to be relatives of the boss of Ladbrokes, the bookie. His reaction was to direct his £2million account be denied to BA. After the story had bounced around the world and appeared in every important newspaper on its way doing untold damage to BA’s reputation and reinforcing the bad image most people have about BA service Mr Walsh is forced to issue a personal apology. Result, BA retains £2m of business.

Meanwhile, Clive Sturm, a computer programmer who travels Business Class - just the sort of man who adds the profit to BA operations - is so screwed up by BA’s Executive Club that he writes a damning piece on his blog with language so profane that I couldn’t risk offending the sensitive eyes of the Liaison Council (who regular readers will recall took exception to me calling them BA’s "acolytes") by repeating it here.

Instead hardier souls can read the piece for themselves at


What should trouble us as people whose pensions depend on the commercial success of BA is that managers in BA are either scared stiff or utterly inept and allow either of these stories to exist at all.

If Airport Managers and staff in Executive Clubs can’t take appropriate action to solve these problems at source why are they employed?

Or is it that they’re scared to death of risking illogical and unjustified criticism from the boardroom for taking some initiative?

Either way, it’s no way to run an airline.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Poisoned Chalice - what happens next spring?

I wasn’t going to mention this subject here because when it first arose it seemed just a little too parochial - and the Manchester Evening News published my comments anyway. However, today, when the BA share price fell 6% and two leading investment banks, Deutsche Bank and ABN-Amro, recommended investors to sell, the issue became global.

Also, my critics will be pleased to note that although it’s an announcement by Mr Walsh that’s triggered the further reduction in the value of our old company, he’s not entirely to blame. And if any readers should be surprised that there are pensioners who are critical of my views about the BA CEO let me assure you there are; at least one thinks I bear him a personal grudge, and another is partner to a BA Manager - so you can make up your own mind whose view that is.

The issue which knocked more than one twentieth off the value of the airline is the announcement by Mr Walsh that to save money this winter BA is going to reduce services, temporarily retiring some of the older and less economical aircraft. Of course he could save all his operating costs and not fly any aircraft at all, but that would be silly wouldn’t it?

If you said yes, then prepare for a surprise for that’s exactly what BA is doing to the customers who regard Manchester as their gateway to the world. After over 30 years of flying non-stop daily from Manchester to New York, British Airways is withdrawing from the route. The reason - according to the maestro of aviation sales strategy - because the route is "too competitive".

Too competitive? When Mr Walsh was still in primary school I led the marketing team that worked alongside our colleagues in sales and operations to launch the Manchester - New York non-stop daily. And it was tough. Like most national carriers in those days BOAC operated from a national base, Heathrow, just as Air France did from Paris and Alitalia did from Rome. Persuading the planners at BOAC to even consider a non-stop from Manchester was close to revolutionary but we did it.

And what would BOAC have done if the Manchester-USA business had got "competitive"? Our salesmen would’ve have hit the streets, knocking on the doors of customers and their agents, reminding them of our product’s USPs, our marketing team would have hammered the message home with promotions and some advertising, and operations would have made doubly sure our airport service was second to none - all persuading our customers that we deserved their support.

But not in Willie Walsh’s BA. No, now when the going gets tough, BA drops out.

So from next October American, Delta, Continental, United and BMI will have the entire market to themselves.

Actually it’s not Willie Walsh’s fault, but the fault of those who went before him. As the Manchester-based Business Account Manager for Air France reminded me the other day, whereas she and her colleagues in most of the major airlines have full time jobs calling on their main business clients, British Airways has reduced its sales force to - nil. That’s right, zilch, zero, nada. The only tool British Airways has in its sales armoury is to lower the price. That’s it. The Easyjet/Ryanair solution.

So reverting to Mr Walsh’s decision to downsize for the winter, frankly that’s all he can do, but any salesman worth his salt knows that the job waiting for him next spring is really tough. If Walsh thinks that keeping Manchester - New York going was too competitive, wait until he finds out how hard it is to grow a small airline back into the big airline BA is today.

A number of newspapers have already asked the question I posed some while ago - how long will it be before British Airways is accused of misrepresentation - for it is de facto already "Heathrow Airways".

That begs the question, which is the national carrier? For some time after privatisation BA could claim that title with little argument, but today? Well it depends how you define "national carrier". If you mean the airline that earns most revenue in Britain, the answer might even be Emirates for with non-stop flights from Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Newcastle as well as London to Dubai, Emirates is making a fortune out of travel from UK to the Far East and Australia.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be because the CEO of Emirates, the man who took the company from an ambition to the world-class airline it is today, is the man who was Manager, Midlands and Northern England for BOAC when that airline started the Manchester-New York non-stop service.

Finally, the press have already started the selection process for Mr Walsh’s successor at BA, though it might be harder than they think. One senior and much respected airline supremo said to me recently "the BA job’s a poisoned chalice now, God knows how much worse it’ll be after Walsh has finished running it down".

Poisoned chalice or not, one name that is cropping up is that of James Hogan - the Australian currently leading Etihad Airways, the UAE carrier fast-becoming a second Emirates. Hogan started in ticketing and sales for Ansett and before his Etihad post was head at Gulf Airways. An interesting insight into how different his thoughts are to those of Mr Walsh can be read at


An interesting read.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The 24-hour rolling news syndrome

Sometimes campaigns like that ABAP’s Staff Travel Working Group is engaged on seem to have lost momentum, to be drifting or be losing direction. It is what can be called the 24 hour rolling news syndrome. In this syndrome a relationship is formed between the ease or speed of communication and the need for news to fill the space created by that speed. Radio 5 in the UK is probably the classic example.

Created effectively on Radio 4 FM during the first Gulf war, the end of that conflict showed the problem in stark reality and were the BBC not publicly funded but had to earn its revenues there is little doubt that Radio 5 would never have existed. In fact, once the conflict was finished most people were content to return to their traditional news sources but the BBC decided that it would extend its taxpayer-funded empire and established a permanent 24-hour, rolling news station on AM, taking over frequencies formerly used by regional radio services. At once it was clear that without a war to report by the minute, news itself was not enough to hold the listener and Radio 5 added sport, and longer interviews. Ten years later the extent to which it has failed in its original brief is evidenced by the continued existence of news services on all the remaining radio channels.

In our case the syndrome manifests itself by creating in the minds of our supporters the idea that absence of news means absence of action or even worse. The truth isn’t like that at all, but is simply that some things take longer to happen than others. In the BBC Radio 5 equivalent, we’ve reached a lull in the conflict; in reality we are waiting for results from our legal advisers.

And in our case this process is made slower still by the proper need to finance our activities separately from the main ABAP financial resources. Whereas a large commercial firm could simply seek a legal opinion and deal with the costs later, we have to establish absolute costs before the event to ensure that we don’t spend what we don’t have.

That in turn is why the campaign to raise funds by individual contributions continues with such importance.

Evidence that we may be having some effect on British Airways management comes from the number of people who took your writer aside at the event reported below and to various degrees conveyed advice or straightforward threats that he should abandon this campaign. Various penalties were suggested. More significantly, none of those issuing the advice/threat was prepared to be named. Frankly, like spoiled ballot papers, such views or threats don’t count. Furthermore I reiterate my invitation to publish on my blog the views of anyone wishing to offer their point of view. Any such views will either be published in full or not published at all and this will only occur if they are deemed by my legal advisor to result in legal liability. Furthermore, the medium through which the blog is published (Blogspot) does not permit amendment of the comments submitted ie they cannot be censored.

The additional news I can publish is that Dayne Markham and your writer were invited to speak recently at a luncheon of former senior BOAC managers and board members - and informally meet with some equivalent former BEA colleagues lunching at the same time in the same place. We summarised the campaign to date and Dayne explained why ABAP’s Committee felt that while the Staff Travel issue clearly falls within the competence and limits of ABAP’s constitution, it was necessary to draw a distinction between ABAP’s ongoing negotiations with BA Pensions and the Working Group’s campaign to even start negotiating with BA over the Staff Travel issue. All our presentations, both formal and informal were warmly received, generally supported in the same way that support has been throughout ie in relation to the extent to which individuals are affected by the proposed changes.

The meetings did produce some specific contacts which the ABAP Working Group will be pursuing urgently and the results of those efforts will be reported here in due course.

Inevitably there is a minority view that all this isn’t worth the candle, that questioning and seeking to change the mind of a powerful and worldwide company is a futile waste of time; some ludicrously continue to suggest that this is driven by individual grudge. The last point is so stupid that comment is almost unnecessary; suffice to say that here and in the blog the writer has consistently said that the issue is not about personalities but about unfairness. They cite our recognition that we may not succeed as a reason not to try. That these same people once led BOAC and BEA through some extraordinarily difficult times both operationally and financially with tenacity and wisdom can only suggest that there may truly be no country for old men, or certainly for old brains. For our part it is enough to reiterate the caution to those opposing our (futile) objectives in British Airways that the adversary who has nothing to lose is a dangerous adversary indeed.

This item is also appearing in the news section of the ABAP website.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Honesty - the lost virtue at British Airways

On the day following the Liaison Council’s request for my correction (below) I wondered if the gods were conspiring against me for the Manchester Evening News carried two interesting stories.

The first was that British Airways is dropping the Manchester-New York route to save money - presumably to help towards the £16 million they lost at Terminal Five’s first week. Delta evidently makes enough on the route and Continental seems to get by with its Manchester-Newark service. American flies daily to Boston and Chicago, BMI/United serves Chicago too but BA can’t manage a simple Manchester-New York. The MEN editorial echoed my proposition that British Airways should be charged with misrepresentation. The airline can simply not claim the title any longer since it serves only London.

The second story was more telling.

Last year British Airways dropped its entire Regional service, claiming it wasn’t profitable. As a former leader of the marketing team in UK North based in Manchester I could tell them why. Without going the sorry tale of mistakes and missed opportunities it simply shows that if you don’t promote and support your product it will wither and disappear beneath your competitors’ promotions.

BA’s solution last year was to come to an "arrangement" with FlyBe who took over the routes, staff and possibly the planes (I don't recall the details), and instantly became the largest operator at Manchester. The only mention of money was that BA had made a small investment in FlyBe.

Yesterday was evidently considered by British Airways as a good day to bury bad news.

In fact British Airways paid FlyBe £140 million, that’s right, almost ten weeks worth of Terminal fiasco, £140 million to take the routes, staff etc off their hands.

And what did FlyBe do? Did they regenerate the original network of mainly business routes? Not likely. They cherry-picked the remainder of the network, announced a few new services to northern France and trousered the cash. And what of routes like Manchester-Nice or Manchester-Paris - too much trouble fighting EasyJet and Air France; or Manchester-Lyon which, whilst I was busy helping to launch the Manchester New York service in the early 70's, my colleagues in BEA had spent years developing. Abandoned, although Air France almost at once inaugurated a Birmingham-Lyon service - doing well I’m told.

But management incompetence is not news at British Airways. The real question is why did British Airways not tell the truth last year? Were they so ashamed at their actions that they hadn’t got the guts to say so?

Finally, there are still some on the ABAP committee who ask if I’ve some sort of grudge against BA and others who suggest that I should show some respect to Walsh and his cohorts (quite apart from the un-elected Liaison Council). OK, I’ll admit to a grudge - a grudge against dishonest, vindictive and irrational management - but otherwise, don’t be silly. As for respect, that is earned not demanded and I've not seen anything in the actions of British Airways management that qualifies for much except contempt - and certainly not respect.

But perhaps to confirm that I am not a lone voice but echo a consensus of opinion, readers might care to look at the blog of someone who earns his living in leadership coaching. What a huge potential market he has at BA.


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