British Airways is not a flag carrier, though it enjoys many of the privileges of being one. For example, it controls 51% of the slots at Heathrow, the airport with the most expensive slots in the entire world. Those slots weren’t purchased, they were gifts from the government during many years of anti competitive protection, before BA emerged as a privatized airline.
In comparison to every other global private airline around the world, British Airways has used the public health crisis as an instrument to go above and beyond what’s necessary to survive with planned staff cuts, arguably settling decades old scores to reduce employee pay to subsistence levels, and that’s only after they fire everyone and demand anyone wishing to be rehired agree to the ghastly terms.
Weeks back, View From The Wing suggested one instrument to ensure fair and equitable terms for British Airways staff reduction and restructuring plans, was to take away their “free” slots, which were never bought or earned, if the airline refused to negotiate without such disdain for the livelihoods of its own people.
Apparently, the idea is catching on. Should it?
Huw Merriman, Transportation Secretary for Parliament, recently floated the idea in a session of parliament. It’s awfully funny for British Airways to complain about competition from airlines in the Middle East and abroad when it specifically benefited from decades of anti competition protections, not to mention decades of public funding, albeit under a slightly different moniker.
I’d say the gift of 51% control of the world’s most premium airport slots is a pretty generous public benefit, for a non flag carrier of course. Particularly one that has spent the majority of the covid-19 crisis not only pursuing subsistence wages for whichever employees it rehires after firing all of them, but also re-coding its website to remove legal refund options from customers.
Sure, a small portion of the slots were acquired from defunct airlines, but the vast majority were non competitive gifts from the British taxpayer, by way of her majesty’s government. God save the slots…
The fundamental question parliament and the British people should look at, is does the country deserve better, and would selling the slots in auction actually make UK aviation more competitive- aka better for customers?
No one has a silver bullet answer, and there are many areas where British Airways has improved remarkably over the last few years. In terms of long haul flying, the airline is quickly modernizing not only its fleet, but seats in all cabins. On short haul, the airline has become more competitive with low cost offerings, creating more choice with the benefit of a strong loyalty program, miles earning and improving Heathrow facilities.
Even then, British Airways doesn’t rate as “the best” in any cabin, and still lags far from it with a majority of the ageing fleet and offerings, leaving an open door for the argument that the British public could be better served with at least a large portion of those slots auctioned to other airlines.
As new and innovative airline offerings emerge, where things like privacy doors in business class become the standard, not the exception, and huge entertainment screens come to economy along with wireless technology, British Airways will have a harder time pushing its case for retaining those slots.
Perhaps, the best answer would be to pursue more equitable solutions for British Airways employees, which don’t give the government a reason to stop effectively subsidizing its business. Modern day British Airways was built on government aide, and if it wishes to retain those gifts, taking care of its people seems like a fair place to start.