Unite, the union representing BA cabin crew, has postponed the threat of industrial action until after the Easter holidays to allow “families to be able to plan their travel arrangements in confidence”. That would appear to be a good PR move, but it isn’t.
In front of the public, the union now stands embarrassed and apologetic about its threatening behaviour at Xmas.
In front of its members, the union is demoralizing its most ardent activists, and it is reminding their less militant colleagues how head-strong and damaging were the tactics the union first pursued.
In front of BA’s management, the union’s dilemma is crystal clear. BA’s cabin crews’ mood is becoming by the day more realistic and resigned as the union loses its grip on its own members and events.
Of course, all this will help secure a negotiated settlement, or it will lead the union into taking industrial action that lacks the punch to do anything more than lead the cabin crew to defeat because the strike lacks both conviction and support.
The one lesson that PRs need to take note of – which I’m afraid is not yet on most of our radars – is that BA created its own monster. BA put its cabin crew at the centre of its PR, marketing and brand ambassadorial promotion to the world. BA cabin crew were heralded as the key component of what made BA “the world’s favourite airline”.
But the BA experience – and the alternative methods employed by the likes of Ryanair – should modify the thoughts of trendy PRs who think they have some new magic via internal comms to use employees as a PR stage army on the employers’ behalf.
As I said last year about the BA affair, BA cabin crew believed their own PR and then got angry when they realised that their needs were secondary to the survival of the mother ship. The reality was that their “unhappiness and discontent” didn’t really matter much to the company or to the public.
Over the years, the cabin crew had not much changed but perception of them had. They’d lost the gloss of being big sisters in the sky. They had gone from being slightly bossy friends to dreary smug over-paid self-seekers. Maybe that was BA’s mistake. They patronised us for years and encouraged their staff to be agents of the airline’s superiority. Wasn’t this after all, Bomber Command with trolly dollies? Neither the airline nor their staff nor their union noticed that one of the Ryanair effects was to make flying more like coach travel.