Margaret Thatcher called for the privatisation of British Airways, so the airline would no longer receive state support. In July 1979, privatisation plans were delayed as a recession loomed, inflicting losses of $254m in the year to 31 March 1981, down from a $37 million profit according to the New York Times. The situation was not helped by high fuel prices, causing British Airways to scrap unprofitable routes, cut staff and retire older aircraft prematurely in 1980.
Unfortunately, the recession continued to bite for BA in 1981, prompting it to store several aircraft in the US and put them up for sale. Hoping to revive its fortunes, it launched the ‘World’s Favourite Airline’ campaign in 1983. During the 1980s, flights were traditionally pricier, but you could get a gourmet meal service and complimentary cigarettes and champagne. During the 90s, the airline introduced reclining seats and five-course meals – but this is no longer the norm.
After years of the airline being pushed to privatisation, BA finally floated on the London Stock Exchange in February 1987 in a “hugely oversubscribed floatation.” At the end of the year, financially-troubled British Caledonian merged with BA.
At the start of 1991, the Gulf War caused a significant loss of traffic, leading to job losses and the deferral of several aircraft deliveries. In a bid to revive passenger numbers, BA launched ‘The World’s Biggest Offer,’ offering to give away every seat free on its international services on 23 April 1991. Unfortunately, the downturn continued as the airline ditched several uneconomic services.
In June 1991, BA unveiled a £10 million package of customer service enhancements, including new lounges, check-in facilities, Club World catering and passenger service enhancements. The airline focused on improving profitability at Gatwick Airport in 1992 and bought assets of the holding company for Dan-Air to create a low-cost operation, with a larger network of European services.
Facing an economic downturn in some of its key markets, BA revealed its Business Efficiency Plan in May 1996 to deliver £1 billion in annual savings in three years under chief executive Robert Ayling. But this prompted strikes by cabin crew during the peak summer period, which had “a serious effect on revenue and profit” to the tune of £125 million.
One of the worst days in aviation history occurred on 11 September 2001, when terrorists hijacked United Airlines and American Airlines flights and crashed two aircraft into the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York and a third into the Pentagon. Nearly 3,000 people were killed. The attacks had a dramatic impact on the airline industry, suppressing demand for airline travel for several years
In the aftermath, BA struggled to return to profitability. This prompted a major package of measures to deliver £650 million of annualised cost savings. The intense target included 5,800 extra job losses on top of the 7,200 previously announced, as well as a ‘significant restructuring’ of its short-haul business to compete with its budget rivals who were building a new market.
Thousands of BA customers were left stranded over the busy second May bank holiday weekend in 2017 following an IT meltdown reportedly caused by a worker mistakenly turning off a power supply, leading to mass flight cancellations, which was estimated to cost the company £80 million in compensation. Chief Executive Alex Cruz told Sky News at the time: “On Saturday morning at around 9.30am, there was a power surge that had a catastrophic effect over some communications hardware, which eventually affected all the messaging across our systems.”
In its most recent blunder, BA dominated headlines in August after emails incorrectly told some passengers their flights were cancelled during staff strikes – and advised rebooking. A spokesman for the airline said: “We are sorry for any confusion and inconvenience this has caused.” As of 4 September 2019, IAG’s share price is near a three-year low. After a disastrous 2019, passengers and investors will hope the only way is up.
The constant negative headlines have dramatically hit the airline's public image. In Which?’s annual survey of the best and worst brands for customer service, published in September 2019, BA ranked 83rd, with Ryanair the only airline scoring lower. BA also featured near the bottom of Alva’s recent Airline Reputation Index, coming in at number 55 out of 65 global airlines. After a fairly disastrous 2019, passengers and investors alike will hope the only way is up.