What has gone wrong with Virgin Atlantic?

The water cannon salute is a traditional gesture made by airports to mark the first, or sometimes, last flight by an airline or a type of aircraft. It happens several times a month around the world without incident. Unfortunately, the most recent salute went wrong when fire crews welcoming a new Virgin service from Atlanta to Manchester (which replaces flights by their shareholder, Delta) pressed the wrong button and covered the aircraft in foam rather than water.

Cue much amusement around the world. 

True, the incident was not funny for the passengers hoping to travel on the aircraft who were delayed overnight but it is hard not to see the funny side. It is like watching a man drive his brand new Mercedes into a car wash and having it flooded because he had forgotten to close the windows. You really shouldn’t laugh but…

In the old days, Virgin Atlantic’s over-active PR people would have been sure to join in the fun. When everyone else is laughing at you, the only sensible option is to join in. We would have expected a few witty one-liners at the very least.

Instead, the most Virgin Atlantic could do was to dispute the fact that the flight was cancelled. According to them, it was merely delayed overnight for the operating crew to take the legal minimum rest. And that simply begs the question as to why they did not immediately replace the aircraft and crew with another aircraft and crew from Heathrow.

In the same circumstances, we imagine even the normally straight-laced US airlines would have found something amusing to say. But Virgin, once the airline that was so eager to put the “fun” back into flying is a very different airline today. 

Congratulations to Manchester Airport!

It might seem strange but we heartily applaud Manchester Airport’s decision not to give extra special terms to Ryanair. Of course, Ryanair put their usual spin on the story. They announce that they are “slashing flights from Manchester” and that this will lead to the loss of “600 jobs” but Manchester was never a very big centre for Ryanair and we find the 600 jobs figure hard to believe.

There is an important matter of principle here. Ryanair wanted terms that were lower than anything granted to other airlines at the airport. Why should they be a special case? What it amounts to, in effect, is that they want the passengers on all other airlines to subsidise them!

Maybe they could agree a compromise. Ryanair agree to pay the existing charges and are allowed to send their staff to the check-in queues for all other airlines and ask passengers to put £1 in a collecting box.

There are a handful of airports that make a living almost exclusively from budget and charter airlines. They tend to offer reduced passenger facilities and charge quite heavily for some services (car parking, luggage trolleys, drop-off and even plastic security bags for liquids). That is fine because the airports are charging all their carriers less and the passengers win through reduced fares – and they can avoid many of the extra costs if they wish.

Birmingham Airport is a prime example of an airport that is trying to keep both camps happy and not really succeeding. It has courted Ryanair who have increased their services from the airport but at the same time – maybe not a complete coincidence – has introduced some extra charges for passengers including a particularly hefty fee for those dropping passengers at the airport. Yet Birmingham wants to be an airport for full service airlines and offer a service that compares with leading airports. They can’t have it both ways. There is a strong suspicion that passengers travelling through Birmingham with airlines like Swiss, Lufthansa or Emirates are subsidising Ryanair – and getting poorer and more expensive service than they might expect from a “world class airport”.

There is nothing wrong with Ryanair trying to nail down the best possible deal it can get from airports but airports must protect their regular passengers and airlines by making sure they maintain the best service and do not reduce their standards or increase fees, to make up for special deals they are giving to Ryanair.

Should any regular passenger at Manchester feel a need to donate to Ryanair, maybe they would like to send a cheque direct to:

Ryanair Ltd.,

Ryanair Corporate Head Office,

Dublin Airport

Co. Dublin

Ireland

We are sure all contributions will be gratefully received.