And it seems to me that there is no greater lottery than running an airline,
particularly the mighty British Airways.
Take Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, a man for whom I have always had a
sneaking admiration. He elevated himself from chief executive to chairman of BA
just in time to avoid the rumpus over dodgy tailfins and belligerent cabin crew.
The blame for that was pinned squarely on his successor as chief exec, Robert
‘call me Bob’ Ayling, one of the more unfortunate corporate managers of recent
Ayling’s successor, Sir Rod Eddington, enjoyed a relatively trouble-free run.
He steered BA through the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and made
great strides repairing relations with trade unions. With just a month left as
chief executive, it is his bad luck to have run into the messy business of Gate
Gourmet and its revolting workers.
Not for the first time, employers seemed oblivious to the close-knit nature
of the community of workers who keep Heathrow running. It is like an extended
family. If one part is hit, the rest inevitably comes out in sympathy.
Airlines flying from Heathrow compete aggressively for business class
passengers, in particular on US east coast routes. This is where the money is to
be made. Inflight cuisine is an important part of the package. A diet of
sandwiches and tea is unlikely to impress.
So spare a thought for Willie Walsh, the former Aer Lingus chief executive
who takes over from Sir Rod at the end of the month. Walsh, like his
predecessors, will find that BA and Heathrow bring their own unique set of
problems. He will need all his Irish charm to help him through.
Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist and writer
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