As the tensions rose during the last-ditch negotiations between British Airways CEO Willie Walsh and the Unite union leadership representing the cabin crew, one of the most bizarre causes of a breakdown in communications was that communications breakthrough, Twitter.
According to media reports, weekend talks to prevent today’s walkout were going well until Walsh realized that Derek Simpson, Unite’s joint general secretary, was sending ‘tweets’ of the progress on Twitter – the public Web site where members post messages 140 characters or less.
So if you want to take a peek at the tweets that the airline claims helped sink negotiations, here they are:
So, a question – was the company right to be upset over public updates of the negotiations? Was the union right to keep people updated?
London, England - At just before 10pm I ran out of my house last night to witness the first British Airways plane flying overhead as it made its approach into Heathrow.
The plane's arrival not only showed the ban on UK travel imposed due to volcanic ash had ended but also broke the silence that west London has enjoyed for five days.
At Heathrow the next day I watch flight after flight take off on the north runway as things quickly got back to normal.
I can't help but wonder if we, the airlines, the airports and the companies in general have learned lessons from this.
One woman I met had no luggage while stranded at Heathrow because her bags were being transferred when the airport shut.
Friends have been emailing from where ever they are stuck telling of missed meetings and conferences.
Schools are having to find supply teachers and I know one family stuck in New York who did a house swap with a family staying in their London house.
Will companies do more teleconferences? Will people take fewer vacations this year in case the volcano acts up again? Will authorities listen to airlines more next time and let them take some of the rick after an eruption? Will airports buy more water and blankets to help stranded passengers? Will hotels be in trouble for doubling room rates - as some did here at Heathrow.
I for one will carry on more clothes and not put credit cards in checked bags.
Will you or your company do anything different or will all just go back to normal by next week?
London (CNN) - As I stood outside the fence of Heathrow in the rain, it all looked like business as usual on the runways. I even saw two Lufthansa branded planes land. They told the whole story of the pilot's strike. The strike – which was called off after one day when German courts intervened – involves one of the world's biggest airline, but not all of it.
The two planes that landed at Heathrow were: Lufthansa Italia and Lufthansa Regional. These two arms of the carrier, along with its subsidiaries BMI, Swiss and Austrian all have different, and more importantly, cheaper deals with pilots. Lufthansa's pilots are mad that the German carrier is moving routes to these and other parts of the company to cut costs.
Meanwhile, British Airways planes keep taking off and landing, full of cabin crew who have spent the last month voting on a strike ballot. Of the 80 percent who voted, nearly 81 percent voted to strike.
Though BA's press release noted the carrier's disappointment, it must be said the Union got a more than 90 percent vote last December. Also the union had yet to announce a date or length for this strike. The last one, to be 12 days over Christmas and New Years was blocked by a British Judge.
BA says recent talks have yielded progress. The union agreed but went ahead with the ballot anyway.
BA has said all along it must make the changes to cabin crew pay and conditions to cut costs, with or without the union's help. This vote is not likely to change the mind of CEO Willie Walsh who has told me many times cuts must come to save this airline in the face of tough economic conditions and increased competition from low-cost carriers.
Meanwhile, French air traffic controllers are expected to walk off the job Tuesday. Why? Just like Lufthansa pilots and BA cabin crews, the issues largely boil down to one: Job security.
Judging from the fears of labor unions, job security is one thing that appears to be taking flight in the airline industry.
More than four thousand Lufthansa pilots began a four-day strike on Monday, forcing the world’s second largest international airline to cancel 800 flights.
I spent the day at the German flag-carrier’s Frankfurt hub before witnessing the drafting of the agreement that secured a suspension of the strike.
The early morning show producer was pretty clear about what she wanted. “Off the top,” she emailed the team on the ground, “we want passenger chaos.”
Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport at 6:30 am on a dank, dark, damp Monday morning in February is probably nobody’s first choice. But it turned out to be the backdrop of the first of two major surprises in the course of the day: as my field producer Naomi McMullan and I stepped out of our taxi into the drizzle, what we saw was anything other than chaos.
Inside the building, people were to be seen, but only in moderate numbers – nothing out of the ordinary. Check-in clerks sat behind their counters, many idle, while Lufthansa officials circulated on the concourse offering help and advice to those few passengers who had shown up in hopes of taking one of the airline’s 1,800 daily flights.
The hushed calm, orderliness and decorum extended even to the ranks of television journalists and photographers deployed to Germany’s number one developing story: they had lined themselves up in a neat row opposite a bank of neglected electronic check-in stations, meekly awaiting news and interviews.
What we were witnessing was the outcome of some assiduous work behind the scenes by Lufthansa. Using email, SMS and even social networking, it had successfully communicated with the vast majority of those customers hoping to use its flights on Monday, getting across the messages about the strike’s impact, booking alternative flights or train journeys and even using direct messages on Twitter to reassure would-be passengers that any lingering concerns would be addressed.
There were exceptions. A 14-month-old boy can be an awkward travelling companion, as Valérie Dardignier was painfully reminded when she stepped off her overnight Lufthansa flight from Miami, expecting just a single short hop to Brussels, her final destination. But that connecting flight had gone the way of about 800 others, and Naomi found her trying to feed and look after her overtired and upset son while swearing she would never fly on Lufthansa again.
And then there was the couple originally booked on a flight to India. Their alternative flight booking would indeed get them there in the end – but take them to Bangkok, Thailand first.
By the middle of the day, things had settled into a pattern. The “passenger chaos” had not materialised, and some Lufthansa flight were leaving as normal. Terminal 1 was a busy place – but then it always is.
Then Lufthansa’s tall and dapper Corporate Communications Chief Klaus Walther appeared with the first real news for hours: the company was seeking an injunction against the pilots’ union on the grounds that its action was causing disproportionate damage and disruption.
Fast forward a few hours to a bland white-walled hearing room in the centre of Frankfurt, the headquarters of the local employment tribunal. Lawyers and representatives from the two sides shouldered their way to their desks past a heaving posse of journalists and photographers hanging on their words.
Right on time, a door opened and the panel filed in, headed by a youthful career judge, Dr Silke Kohlschitter. What happened over the next two hours had a great deal to do with her personality, legal precision and good humour - and her ability to cut through to the core of what divided the two sides and what could bring them together.
Those used to, say, British legal proceedings would have been astonished at the informality of the way Kohlschitter mediated between Lufthansa and the striking pilots’ union.
The detailed background, the arguments and the issues were not easy to follow, and proceedings were adjourned twice to allow the two sides to huddle and refer back to their colleagues back at headquarters. But in the end the presiding judge had cajoled Lufthansa and its pilots’ union into accepting an agreement which she had largely drafted for them in open court.
It was an impressive process: just two-and-a-half hours after the tribunal had convened, it had secured a fortnight’s suspension of the biggest strike in German aviation history. Pay talks will now resume as soon as practical – without preconditions.
It’s been a long day but the two surprises have taught me two lessons. First, the effective use of modern communications helped prevent what could have been an angry gathering of frustrated passengers at the airport. And second, anyone who might have been seduced into some stereotype of German judges as legalistic, inflexible and unimaginative had better think again.
I boarded Japan Airlines flight 1381 at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. My destination: a small town in western Japan called Shirahama.
I slid into my seat towards the rear of the plane. I didn’t have to compete for a spot to toss my overhead baggage, because there wasn’t anyone in my row. In fact, there wasn’t anyone in the seats next to me, the row behind me or in the ten rows in front of me.
Flight 1381 took off from Tokyo more than half empty. The flight appeared about 70 percent empty. That’s a lot of empty seats for this plane, an MD-81 which, according to Japan Airlines, seats approximately 160 people.
Shirahama is near a world heritage site. It’s a gorgeous, remote area of Japan where the ocean meets cliffs of spectacular beauty. It’s not a highly populated area of the country. Yet Japan Airlines flies flights in and out of the small airport in Shirahama twice a day.
Japan Airlines, or JAL, in its November 2009 report, shows the Shirahama-Tokyo flights had an occupancy rate of 54.3 percent.. In October 2009, the airline says occupancy for that route was 39.5 percent. You see a bigger problem for the airline when you look at passenger loads for all of its domestic routes: In November 2009, 95 routes - more than two-thirds of JAL’s domestic flights – had occupancy rates less than 60 percent. Industry analysts say that, generally, 60 percent capacity means that a route isn’t profitable.
Aviation specialist Kotaro Toriumi says all these empty planes symbolize many of JAL’s problems. “JAL was originally a government-controlled company, although it was privatized,” says Toriumi. “What we see today is the legacy of its bureaucratic roots.”
Toriumi says the company’s inflexibility to cut unprofitable routes, downsize aircraft, and adjust to economic downturns has been an ongoing problem for the last twenty years.
As the nation’s flagship carrier, Japan Airlines has been subject to political pressure, both from the national and local governments. Air travel has been traditionally seen as a source of vital transportation and income into communities.
“You can’t just blame JAL. The airline hasn’t been able to eliminate non-profitable routes if they’re popular destinations for Japanese, such as resort locations, because there’s a strong resistance by the government.”
Japan Airlines would not speak to CNN on camera, citing its upcoming bankruptcy proceedings. The airline did respond to CNN questions via a statement. “It is important to note that the profitability of a route cannot be determined by the seat factor alone. Past reports have claimed that the break even seat factor is 75%, but this is wrong to say. It would vary from route to route. Since January 28 of last year, JAL has announced that it will suspend 20 domestic routes, with the closure of four domestic offices. JAL has been progressively switching to the use of smaller, more efficient aircraft on both its international and domestic network.”
I boarded my return flight to Tokyo from Shirahama. Again, I had plenty of elbow room: no one was in my row. There were a few more passengers on the return, but the plane was still mostly empty.
A woman on my flight said that without this flight, Shirahama would be “cut off” from the rest of Japan. She hoped that the route wouldn’t be eliminated. Japan Airlines will have to balance the needs of its customers with its own financial survival. The choices will not be easy, but vital to the airline’s post-bankruptcy future.
People have been using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to express their feelings about the threatened strike by British Airways cabin crews.
Both the airline and the union have been slammed by people who may be affected by the strike and CNN has been monitoring the so-called “real-time Web” to see the massive outpouring of emotion but also to help us connect directly with people who have a story to tell.
We use this huge following, and the fact that we have most of our CNN correspondents and anchors using social media themselves, to help us find people who have a real story to tell.
In the case of the threatened strike at British Airways, we asked Richard Quest to reach out using his social media accounts to ask for people whose travel plans are threatened by the strike to contact him directly. Richard will be featuring some of the people and stories he has found over the next few days on CNN. You can tweet Richard back or e-mail him at email@example.com
As well as Richard Quest, Adrian Finighan has been reporting from Heathrow Airport all day and Michael Holmes and Ayesha Durgahee will be reporting live from London today as well.
All of them are using social media to reach out to the audience and to direct people to our latest reporting on CNN and CNN.com.
We also use new social media tools such as “Twitter Lists” to collect all our relevant Twitter accounts on a story in one place. This allows our audience to easily find all of our correspondents on the story and to see the “real-time” coverage of the story alongside the reporting on CNN and CNN.com.
Here is our CNN Twitter List for the British Airways story.
We have also added the official Twitter accounts for British Airways and for the Unite trade union to our list so you can see our reporting and the information being put out by the parties involved in the dispute.
An unfiltered stream of information on social media can make it very hard for people to find relevant information and an element of “curation” helps the audience find what they are looking for but also helps us at CNN to direct people to our latest reporting on CNN and CNN.com.
We are also using the power of CNN iReport to allow people to send their stories and images about the threatened strike directly to CNN and give people an opportunity to tell their own story. We have set up an iReport assignment page for people to share their stories with us.
Looking to social media for people expressing their opinions about a story is interesting but what we are looking for at CNN is not just a stream of opinion and commentary, but real people with real stories to tell.
LONDON, England - I always look forward to interviewing British Airways CEO Willie Walsh. No matter how much doom and gloom there is in the industry, the Irishman has a smile on his face and also has a positive spin on his airline going forward.
That was the case again early Friday when he did his normal round of recorded interviews in London as BA announced their latest results.
Yes, BA recorded a record pre-tax half-year loss for the six months to September, yes the airline faces possible strikes by cabin crew, yes oil prices are going up again, yes premium traffic is being hit hard, yes airlines make little money from the majority of those passengers that sit in the back half of the airplane - but Walsh still appears more optimistic then the heads of the other European legacy carriers.
Why, you ask. And with good reason: BA is in the midst of drastic cutbacks. It's mothballing planes (if only temporarily), cutting thousands of jobs (3,000 more announced Friday), delaying the delivery of new airplanes, wringing out hundreds of millions of dollars in costs.
Walsh says these aren’t just steps to get through the recession. He says short haul premium traffic has changed, for good, and BA needs to make "structural changes" to reflect that reality. If you have ever flown from London to Edinburgh or Paris to Amsterdam and wondered why people paid triple for the privilege of sitting in a seat no bigger than those in the rest of the single-aisle plane, companies have asked the same thing and decided to cut back. BA says that will not return.
What seems to be on the rebound is premium traffic yields (average price per passenger per mile). That is where BA makes its money. Of course its just recorded a record loss, so there is a long way to go, but if companies are willing to pay just a little more for a flexible business ticket, then as Walsh says, BA may be "bottoming out."
This, of course, could all go horribly wrong if cabin crew go on strike just before Christmas, which is entirely possible. Walsh didn’t smile when he reminded me that the union has not yet even balloted for a strike, much less announced a date to walk out (all because, believe it or not, of BA’s plan to cut the number of cabin crew on long-haul flights from 15 to 14).
Walsh has a challenging time ahead.
BA is known for its decent service, great Web site and friendly enough staff, but has to compete with the incredibly well managed and well financed Middle East airlines that are ever expanding.
On the other side, Ryanair is driving hard towards its goal of being Europe’s biggest airline that charges peanuts for flights, many of which compete on BA routes.
Meanwhile, Walsh has to battle unions, cut more costs, and deal with a huge pension deficit while trying to grow the business through its never-ending attempt to merge with Iberia and by increasing an alliance with American Airlines.
Can he keep smiling?
Five years ago, Garuda Indonesia was an airline that seemed to be on a path of constant turbulence. It was losing money year after year, battling allegations of corruption within the state-owned enterprise and stained with a questionable safety record. Today, Garuda is a symbol of what's possible in the difficult airline industry. You need a leader with focus.
Emirsyah Satar, 50, is the CEO of Garuda. Now in his fifth year as the head of the national airline, he has turned Garuda from problematic to profitable through staged planning. “In the first two years, just surviving was good enough. And then the next two years was the turnaround stage,” he said. Now the airline is embarking on the growth stage.
The son of an Indonesian diplomat who grew up in Mexico City and Prague, Satar went on to become a banker and then the CEO of Bank Danamon, Indonesia's fifth largest bank. In 2005, he was brought to Garuda as President and CEO and he made drastic changes from the start.
"What happened in 2005, the business model was just not working,” Satar said. It increased accountability at all levels in the organization. And in the short term, Satar decided less was more: “We got out of routes where we were losing money … it was ok if we reduced our market so we could become profitable again."
He positioned Garuda as a “premium airline” and told his staff not to worry about local competition. With a domestic population of 240 million people, he bet focus on the cream of the crop would keep Garuda afloat while it restructured. His bet paid off, in part because Indonesia sidestepped the brunt of the global downturn thanks to the strength of its domestic market: Indonesia's economy is still growing at around 4 percent.
While Garuda is still juggling $700 million in debt, the state-owned enterprise has been able to turn a profit the past two years. Satar has plans to make what he calls a "quantum leap." By 2014, he wants to bring the fleet from the current 66 to 116 aircraft.
The big challenge now is getting a stalled IPO back on track. Satar had wanted to bring Garuda public this year, but the global downturn put a halt to that. Now he's shooting for an IPO for June 2010. The airline is also in the process of restructuring its debt, which Satar hopes to have completed by the end of this month.
Then there was the issue of safety. In the past decade, a string of crashes involving various Indonesian airlines eroded the public trust in Indonesian air safety. In March 2007, a Garuda plane overshot a runway in Yogyakarta and crashed, killing 21 people. In June 2007, the European Union banned all Indonesian airlines in European airspace. Satar hired an American consultant and and cracked down on safety issues. In July of this year, the EU lifted the ban on certain airlines included Garuda.
The airline now plans to get into the long-haul market, starting with an Indonesia-Amsterdam route by June 2010. That will be followed by routes to Frankfurt, London, Paris, Rome and eventually in 2012, Los Angeles.
"We (Garuda) travel to Australia, Japan, Korea, China and these people still travel. And Bali is still a good attraction," Satar said.
PARIS, France - There have only been two commercial orders of note so far for either Airbus or Boeing here at the Paris Air Show. One was Qatar Airways’ firm $1.9 billion order for 24 Airbus planes (new engines are included in that value) from the A320 family.
The showpiece at Le Bourget is a major shop window for aircraft manufacturers.
Vietnam Airlines also placed an order for 16 single-aisle A321 planes and options on two A350 XWB - a plane not yet built and rival to the Boeing 777.
That's it. Nothing has been heard from Boeing yet, though it tends to lag behind the French plane maker when it comes to orders in Paris, where Airbus likes to make a splash in its own backyard.
Both aircraft manufacturers have barely made a dent in their order book this year because new orders are offset by so many airlines delaying - or in some cases outright canceling - orders. Until the show Boeing had no new net orders and Airbus had more than 11 for 2009.
And yet in my interviews with the men who sell the planes, John Leahy of Airbus and Scott Carson of Boeing, show them to be in buoyant mood. One of them even joked to me that there is trouble if they are both of the same mind.
That's because they say new plane orders follow GDP growth - and it looks as if the economic tide is turning. It’s also the case that financing appears to be getting easier to source. Boeing says it has not had to finance as many of its customers as it was prepared to do. But it has been helping airlines find financing when they couldn't.
That too, is getting easier, and since the rationale for newer, lighter, more fuel-efficient planes has not changed, airlines are expected to pick up business replacing fleets once the credit crunch and recession ends.
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