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For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Issue 43

BY THE TIME THIS ISSUE of Buying Business Travel hits your desk, British Airways' (BA) bosses will either be mired in strike chaos or phewing a collective sigh of relief having averted potential catastrophe. The result of the Unite union ballot was due to be announced shortly after we went to press. The travel industry was, naturally, hoping for disruption to be avoided at all costs. The threat itself has already prompted many business travellers to re-bookwith other carriers, while travel management companies are poised with contingency plans.

As a long-standing member of the National Union of Journalists, I fervently believe in workers' solidarity and organisation to protect the rights of employees. In this case, however, I'm struggling to understand how Unite can possibly be representing its members' best interests. BA's fight for survival is well documented, and the cabin crew's market leading salaries are no secret either. Perhaps there is a genuine communication problem between directors and staff to be addressed.

Let's be honest, BA's track record in talking to the trade is far from perfect.

The idea that BA could fall into administration was once unthinkable. But if the predicted strikes - which will be designed to wreak maximum havoc - take place, even its most loyal frequent flyers must fear for the future.

Nevertheless, the start to 2010 has not been all doom and gloom for our ailing flag carrier. Though it is set to post record losses for the second successive year in April, figures for the last quarter of 2009 were far better than forecast. And having secured a preliminary agreement for a merger with Iberia, the company has also taken a step closer to an official tie-up with American Airlines (AA). The US Department of Transport gave BA and AA's Oneworld alliance an initial thumbs-up on anti-trust immunity - which will allow its members to co-operate on fares and networks - much to the annoyance of Virgin Atlantic's Sir Richard Branson, who branded the decision a "kick in the teeth" for competitors and consumers. BA boss Willie Walsh can also take heart from Japan Airlines' decision to commit to Oneworld, having been publicly courted by rival, SkyTeam.

There are other seeds of hope for BA's shareholders; the new First Class product - being trialled on the Heathrow-Chicago service - has enjoyed favourable reviews, while speculation that the successful all-Business Class service between London City and New York JFK will be rolled out on other routes continues to mount.

May common sense prevail.

Springtime is synonymous with fresh starts and new beginnings. I now have the privilege of editing our market leading publication after Mike Toynbee decided to make the move upstairs and become managing editor. While you'll still see Mike out and about at industry events, I will be spearheading a new era for the magazine.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone with comments about our products or the industry.

Martin Ferguson, Editor