On Dec. 30, 2019, British Airways put out a press release on the company’s “20 Resolutions for 2020.” Reading it now, on Sept. 15, 2020, is like reading an artifact from some distant era, evoking an emotion probably akin to that felt by the scholars reading the Ptolemaic decree on the Rosetta Stone.
The list is heavy on British Airways’ premium promises — new lounges, new cabins, new seats — and customer-centric plans, including Wi-Fi and menus and the “Concorde Team” for premium customer service in select destinations. All of this was important work for a carrier that made a lot of money from longhaul international travelers, and British Airways, like all airlines, had a couple of months this year when it could fulfill its resolutions.
More than half a year into this pandemic, business travel has all but evaporated and no one knows when it will return. International travel — arguably British Airways’ strongest suit — is at a standstill, thanks to a patchwork of travel restrictions around the world. In fact, CEO Alex Cruz said the airline is “fighting for its very survival,” in an op-ed in The Telegraph.
The airline has laid off or furloughed thousands of employees, and its unions are restive, never a good sign for an airline planning a comeback. British members of parliament have called the airline a “national disgrace” for its planned reductions in force. But is more government support necessary when airlines are planning for a smaller future and therefore need fewer employees?
British Airways’ travails are not unique, of course. Most airlines are struggling, and the problem is particularly acute for those, like BA, that staked their fortunes on intercontinental travel. Even Singapore Airlines is cutting jobs. Consultant Hubert Horan explained why this time is different: “The current airline crisis is global, supply and demand are wildly out of balance everywhere, and the pandemic is likely to permanently reduce industry demand (due to videoconference, reduced global trade, and structurally higher fares). Competitors cannot step in to fix local problems; nobody wants to buy anyone’s excess aircraft and the number of competing airlines had already been radically reduced.”
Or, as Skift founder Rafat Ali argued, “The big message: The airline industry is in denial about its imminent collapse and the reasons why that is.”
Which is why reading that press release from December 2019 is like reading something from a long-lost time — nostalgic, poignant, and a reminder of all this industry, and the world, has lost.