ALEX BRUMMER: Britain's airlines must end the blame game in the skies

ALEX BRUMMER: Britain's airlines must end the blame game in the skies

Ode to the joys of international travel! On a recent assignment to Israel, British Airways pinged me to be at Heathrow four hours before departure at 8am, meaning I had to get up at 3am.

But due to an inexplicable absence of the first officer, the flight did not depart until 13:45.

This required a full plane load to hang out for most of the day. During tea, a lukewarm breakfast was prepared on board.

Turbulent times: Most UK airlines including BA, Easyjet and Virgin had near-death experiences during the pandemic

Turbulent times: Most UK airlines including BA, Easyjet and Virgin had near-death experiences during the pandemic

At least our flight went up in the air. A colleague who returned had the choice of waiting 24 hours or flying via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.

Flight crew absences due to Covid-related illness is the reason given by Easyjet chief executive Johan Lundgren for the cancellation of hundreds of Easter flights. An attempt to vet the problems to the Ministry of Transport was later rejected.

This is not to say that there should be no sympathy for British airlines. Most, including BA, Easyjet and Virgin, had near-death experiences during the pandemic.

Heavily subsidized EU counterparts and US airlines received direct aid from the government.

There were no dedicated facilities for UK-based airlines or the wider aerospace sector. Self-help included going back to shareholders for more equity, issuing bonds, downsizing staff and operations, and accumulating debt.

So much for the apologies. The bigger question for carriers is why they didn’t foresee a shortage of colleagues.

They allowed bookings that could not be honored, took advance payments from customers and treated flyers with disdain, turning air travel into a nightmare.

In many cases, it still involves endless wrestling with incomprehensible passenger tracking forms and scam PCR testing.

The reputational damage from unreliable schedules and non-existent service levels is huge, and for BA, which for decades lived beyond its record as being a cut above the rest, its competitive advantage is being eroded.

Lundgren says easyJet will operate about 90 percent of its flights in the current April-June quarter.

Before anyone applauds, imagine the pressure being put on crews and passengers.

Easyjet managed to contain the losses in the first half. The real test, amid rising jet fuel prices, will come in the second half of the summer season.

There is a huge backlog to catch up, as shares have fallen 31 percent in twelve months.

There must be concern that the damage to all of UK industry (including the greedy airport operators) will be permanent.

price shocks

The jump in US consumer price inflation to 8.2 percent in March, the highest in 40 years, bodes ill for our cost of living.

In the UK, as in the US, we can console ourselves with an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent and a large number of vacancies.

In the private sector, wage schemes give workers a chance to regain some lost ground.

The US data shows how foolish it was for the Federal Reserve to view higher inflation as a transitional measure and for so long resisted an end to money printing and higher interest rates.

Nevertheless, there is some comfort to be drawn from the US data. Core inflation, driven by supply chain slowdowns, is cooling. The price of Brent crude has fallen to around $100.

There is one big difference between US inflation and the UK. Fracking means that there is a lot of natural gas in America. US consumer prices may be close to their peak, while Britain faces a shock in energy prices in the fall as the cap is updated.

The Fed’s problem is mop up the excess money it has printed into Covid.

That will require tough interest rate decisions, regardless of general consumer prices.

fashion faux pas

ASOS could do no wrong during the pandemic and, unlike fast fashion rival Boohoo, managed to avoid governance failure.

But the rapid growth is over, not only for online fast fashion, but also for other Covid fighters such as Deliveroo.

The bigger question for Asos, which suffered a profit implosion in 2021-22, is whether it can fall victim to shifting consumer moods.

Disposable outfits from the other side of the world can’t stand the scrutiny of younger, greener fashionistas.

And the more established high street operators are embracing a sustainable story. How fast Covid meteorites can fall on Earth.


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