17 SEPTEMBER 2018
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British Airways needs to get itself a new IT supplier, and fast. On Thursday the company admitted that bank details of 380,000 passengers had been hacked. The breach occurred on 21 August. Private financial information remained available to the hackers for more than a fortnight. Some customers, BA concedes, may already have had money stolen from their accounts, depending on the skill of the criminals.
Maybe BA needs to get itself a new online security system as well. Not for the first time, compensation payments will have to be negotiated. In July, the airline blamed an IT glitch for the cancellation of dozens of flights. The previous month, more than 2,000 prospective customers were turfed out of their legitimately-booked seats because BA said their tickets had been sold “too cheaply”. In May last year, 75,000 passengers were stranded at Heathrow and Gatwick after the company asserted that an engineer had accidentally shut off the IT system. Maybe, taking a longer view, that engineer had the right idea.
“We’ll take good care of you” has given way in popular parlance to Abba: anyone but British Airways. Scrapping meals in Economy Class on short-haul flights has not helped. Surveys suggest that Aeroflot is now considered to have superior catering to Britain’s so-called flag-carrier. Ethiopian Airlines has a newer fleet. BA lounges have begun to look tired compared with those of its rivals.
Given the polarisation of the industry between premium and economy brands, BA needs to decide where it should position itself in the flight pattern. It has to compete with both low cost, short and long-haul airlines, and against quality carriers from the Gulf and Far East. At present, it’s stuck in the middle. It ought, given sufficient imagination and acumen, to be able to navigate a path to serve both markets.
This COMMENT SPECIAL is not from BTN. It is reproduced from The Times of Saturday 8 September. As “The Thunderer” noted in another column that day this is not the only time Britain’s flag carrier has been in the news the wrong way. Last year’s May bank holiday meltdown was due to a power outage – the intrepid work of some contractor, who switched everything off and then blew out the IT system turning it on again. And lest we forget, Willie Walsh ran away from the media when the opening of T5 took place in 2008. He does not like to get involved with bad news.
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