Despite talk of the nation pulling together, exhibiting the blitz spirit, and all that good stuff – quite a few Brits (and one Irishman – guess who) are at each others’ throats after the last week’s security saga. It’s a complicated situation, but this is my best stab at summarising it. Pay attention, and note that this is a fast-moving legal scenario.
British Airways (BA) is thinking of sueing BAA; Ryanair is thinking of sueing BAA and the Government; Easyjet is thinking of sueing someone but it’s too early to decide whom; BMI will probably sue whoever BA sues; Virgin doesn’t think it’s appropriate to sue anyone (but does want some money back from the BAA); BAA thinks it did a great job and everyone else can get lost; and London’s Metropolitan Police are not sueing-sort-of-people but also want BAA to cough up. I rather suspect nobody will end up sueing anybody but I sympathise with those that are fed up with BAA. It really is a deeply irritating entity.
Through an accident of ideology this public (ie private) company controls nearly all of London’s airport infrastructure (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted – leaving only Luton, for those of you not familiar). This gives it enormous power and a business case that the rest of us can only dream of. But also implies huge responsibility – and BAA doesn’t seem to get that bit.
Air transport in London (and elsewhere) is heading for crisis. Already it’s a hideous experience for passengers and it’s gradually becoming less and less economically efficient. If you stump up for a business class fare it’s still routine to have to leave home four hours before your flight. And if you’re in coach – well, a week before the current crisis I sat with hundreds of other passengers in the luggage hall at Gatwick for an hour and watched as precisely no luggage at all was being delivered.
BAA’s response tends to be wearyingly repetitive: it’s not responsible for baggage, security rules, delays, pollution, travel costs, etc… But it’s also pretty selective about what it can achieve.
Consider last weekend – when the Government relaxed the emergency carry-on rule BAA promptly announced (with passengers queuing in the street outside Heathrow) that it couldn’t implement the relaxation for 24 hours because it couldn’t get the message to staff. But a couple of days earlier when it became apparent that its duty-free sales were hurting because of the new rules, it reacted in a flash to let duty-free liquids be sold and taken on aircraft.
A lot of people in the air transport world today are having to take responsibility for things that aren’t their responsibility. Why are Boeing and Airbus investing in air traffic control R&D – because if the system grinds to a halt then there will be no flying and nobody will buy aircraft. Why are numerous companies funding environmental R&D – because if aviation doesn’t do the right thing then it will be legislated to death. BAA, and its soon-to-be new owners Ferrovial, need to start pulling their weight.