BA’s executive chairman Keith Williams. Photo: Nick Morrish

Faster Thinking

Being a very British airline

Executive chairman Keith Williams reflects on BA’s latest BBC screening, the growing short-haul market and the benefits of slow TV.

Did you catch the BBC2 documentary about us? I had a feeling it would work well as soon as I saw the title: A Very British Airline. Britishness is central to our character, and goes much further than having the flag on the tail – proud of that though we are. Brits tend to be calm, professional, focused and understated as they go about things. I thought the BA people featured in the programmes showed these qualities in abundance, as well as high standards and a dash of humour. A favourite moment was seeing one of our product team crawling round the A380 First cabin, checking fittings for any hint of imperfection. With that kind of attention to detail, I’m confident we’re on the right track.

How to spend time on a flight is an individual matter. For those keen to keep up with emails, help could be at hand if our discussions with satellite operator Inmarsat come to fruition, paving the way for high-speed internet on flights over the UK and Europe. For those keener to unwind, we are introducing the first onboard ‘slow TV’ – a chance to while away up to seven hours watching a mesmerising driver’s eye-view of a train journey through Norway as fields, woods, lakes and mountains slip by. We strive to cater for all tastes.

The documentary highlighted two of our long-haul routes: New York and Chengdu. And it’s often our further-flung destinations that catch the media’s imagination. Yet more than 75 per cent of British Airways flights are short haul. Moving customers within the UK and to and from Europe is the bread and butter of our daily operation. European short-haul travel has grown and changed enormously in the last 15 years and has become arguably the most competitive aviation market in the world. A number of operators have gone out of business and others have struggled to find the right formula for well-informed, price-conscious consumers. There are many different types of consumer and, to flourish, we have to ensure we can offer them a wide enough choice. That’s why we have started fitting new interiors on our short-haul Airbus fleet. I hope you get to experience one soon.

BA flies to 180 destinations and, with our airline partners, we reckon we reach a high proportion of the countries on the planet. The World Cup gave me a chance to check that out. Of the 32 qualifying nations, you could fly to 22 direct with BA and to another six with the help of Iberia or American Airlines. As it happens, the four exceptions all went out at the group stage. As, of course, did England. I don’t think any wider lessons need be drawn.