British Airways Christmas Strike Looms

15/12/2009 –  British Airways Christmas Strike Looms

The news dominating the airline industry the past few days is clearly that British Airways’ cabin crew has voted to begin a 12 day strike on the 22nd of December. The damage to British Airways should this strike commence may be far greater than stranding an estimated 910,000 passengers over Christmas and New Years, resulting in a financial loss of approximately £300,000,000 (US$485,000,000).

Why could the damage extend beyond the obvious financial loss? Because of how British Airways has been addressing this situation. While there has been a significant backlash against the Unite Union for many reasons, most all of which I believe to be justified in this instance, British Airways has chosen to use traditional media and social media to try and force the Union back into negotiations. Statements from British Airways’ CEO Willie Walsh explain why the Union is wrong rather than address what the airline is doing to help its potentially stranded passengers.

While many people are closely following the details of the British Airways cabin crew strike, those who will be impacted by the work stoppage don’t care about the details, they want to know what is being done to help them.

This strike’s impact would wound the airline’s all ready lagging brand image. Once “The World’s Favourite Airline,” British Airways’ public perception has slipped and believe it or not this situation can play out favourably in terms of brand image.

British Airways can take this terrible situation and turn it on its head by not playing the victim to the Union strike, or by issuing media support to garner sympathy, but to use social media to actively engage their passengers and play the hero role. British Airways may not be able to stave off the £300mil loss, but it can use this to bolster the reputations of its OneWorld Alliance partners, to contain the revenue and ultimately have passengers spreading the ‘viral message’ that despite the all the internal problems at the airline…the airline cared enough to reach out and help them.

Presently, for example British Airways’ two Twitter accounts are sending out pre-canned responded to passengers rather than engaging passengers in a direct and empathetic manner. An example of way British Airways can deploy its involvement in social media to turn this potentially devastating situation back in their favour as the hero would be running extensive direct searches on Twitter non-stop (currently I am doing a content search for references to British Airways and the strike though 9 simultaneous keyword searches with more than a few thousand direct comments in the past day).  Using a strategic content search British Airways could have found a comment from women upset they were flying British Airways to their weddings during the strike period.

The positive viral social media message, not to mention main stream press, British Airways could leverage by finding brides who may have their weddings cancelled due to the strike, and ensuring that they had secured alternate travel arrangements in place so they could get to their weddings stress free is substantial.

I know there are many issues at play here and that dealing with a strike is never easy for anyone, especially a company facing a crippling strike that could easily leave the airline dead in the water when all is said and done…however the airline has tools in place it could optimize to gain public support.

Happy Flying…and I hope British Airways is able keep its chin up and keep flying!

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