If there is one thing that airlines as a group do well, its spin – especially when they plan for it. British airlines are especially good at it. Virgin Atlantic has one of the smallest fleets, all of them long haul, and a narrow market focus, it’s no longer even majority owned by the only person it’s ever associated with, entrepreneur Richard Branson.
Indeed the airline tries now, to actively avoid him, feeling especially is this age of women and men who have finally had enough of sexism and misogyny, that his days of appearing with some sexy female on a wing, or partying across the Atlantic with pop stars and always attractive cabin crew, are over. He hasn’t I’m pleased to say been one of the accused, but the ‘optics’ as PR people call it, simply wouldn’t be ideal. I have always been of the opinion they never were, but that’s me. To my mind glamour doesn’t mean sex – or that only females should be, and could only be glamorous, or impart glamour.
The British have a thing for aunties. For years the BBC was nicknamed aunty. Reliable, possibly a spinster, always sensible, aunty was always dependable both in the family and, well as the BBC.
That attitude had been prevalent in British Airways for years, but has slowly receded. No longer lauded for its customer focus, (or care), no longer the best, no longer anything special, not even reliable. Aunty was responsive, in a matriarchal kind of way, but now she’s retired.
However, what the new breed of PR people have worked out is that the British do like to be nannied, they like to feel they’re being looked after, guided by some mysterious ethereal imagined ‘force’. It comes from private schools, monarchy and continuity, a general unconscious belief that The State will always do what’s right in the end.
For many British Airways lingers as a representative of that state. It’s flag carrying livery the very embodiment of Britain. It comes as a shock to many that its last three CEO’s have been Irish, Dutch, and Spanish. It’s just a branch of a multi-airline corporate holding company, the rather clumsily named International Consolidated Airlines Group, for some reason just known as IAG.
The other day, when I outlined the new BA thin seat and sharp increase in seats per aircraft, AviationNews.online was one of handful of sites that mentioned it. It spread slowly. Within a week, BA’s spin people had read the comments of those who saw it as one more nail in the coffin of quality, and started to spin it differently.
One thing Spin can achieve is to turn a negative into a positive. Aunty was brought out of retirement. Just like Branson is from time to time.
BA took to the press not simple facts, but bad news disguised as Aunty Goodnews: BA weren’t putting more thin seats into an aircraft, no deary, no you’ve got the wrong end of the stick! British Airways is putting in non-reclining seats because we’re stopping the arguments, bad behaviour and rudeness of those naughty people who recline them and annoy you.
And of course the old print press like the Daily Mail and so on lapped it up like the predictable old school reactionaries they are. My father who flew once in 1959 on the Sunderland flying boat that’s now in the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, even mentioned it.
So in one go, the reality of what BA had done, its commercial impact, its comfort and passenger reaction, its value for money, shoving you sardine-like into one of their tin cans, was wiped out. What they’d really done, as Aunty once again confirmed, was rein in those awful people who recline their seat. One small victory over modernity and the selfish. And so very, very, British. It also simply must be true, because Aunty said so.