BA Dispute Fails To Deter Brits Seeking The Sun

May 19, 2010

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The ongoing industrial dispute at British Airways has deterred some Britons from choosing the airline to jet them away this summer, but it may not signal an increase in people staying at home.

The airline is an important British icon, but passengers are fickle and rather than risk not arriving at their destination or being left stranded abroad, they are opting for other, often cheaper airlines.

If they are deciding to spend their holidays in Britain it is more likely because they are anxious about volcanic ash from Iceland disrupting their travel plans, analysts say.

The effects of the recession and the weak pound also make Europe and the United States economically unattractive.

Uncertainty over BA flights has persisted since last December, and two waves of strikes took place in March, contributing to a year-on-year drop of 11.4 percent in passenger numbers.

Cabin crew were due to resume strikes this week after refusing the latest management offer on jobs and pay, but the first of the four five-day walk-outs was suspended after a last-minute court decision on Monday.

The risk remains though, causing further worry among passengers and potentially damaging the airline's reputation.

"It is going to have a huge impact, it already has. People think 'can I risk it?'," said Piers Guilar, head of strategy at the strategic branding company Siegel and Gale.

"BA used to say it was connecting the world... but people lose trust in the brand.

"People become acutely judgemental when they are put into stress situations. You get into a stress situation when you get your holiday, or your flight is cancelled."

Passengers will choose other airlines, after all "they are just tubes in the sky," Guilar added.

"I was meant to travel with them, but I cancelled and went with easyJet because I couldn't rely on BA," he said.

Professional artist Jeanette Barnes, 48, is a long-time fan of BA but she went with another airline when looking to travel to Los Angeles in January.

"I was only going for a week and I couldn't afford to lose a day or two if there was a strike," she said.

A spokesman for The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), which represents travel agents and tour operators, said the BA strike would not necessarily put people off travelling.

"The aviation market is very competitive and I can't think of many routes where you would have to fly British Airways and there is no other alternative."


Some cash-conscious Britons are opting to stay at home in the current economic climate, a trend which began last year when Britons' expenditure abroad fell by 10 percent and domestic spending increased by about 5 percent.

Britain's Camping and Caravanning Club has seen a 7 percent increase in bookings for the May public holiday compared with the same period last year, while advance bookings for the summer are up by about 3 percent.

"If you are providing a good value option you are doing well," Kurt Janson, policy director at the trade body Tourism Alliance said.

The new government's emergency budget next month, which is likely to include stringent spending cuts and probable tax rises to tackle the country's record budget deficit, could see further belt tightening.

But many Britons are still planning to travel abroad in search of sun and good value with Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey remaining popular destinations. Summer bookings are up 34 percent for Tunisia, according to GfK Ascent, the market information company.

A BA spokesman said in a statement: "We never comment on forward bookings and update the market at certain points in the year."