22 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 32


Stand by for take-off and fasten your seat belts here's how to land in the soup


Soup never seems to appear on my plas- tic tray from British Airways. I have assumed that it has been ruled out as being unstable during clear air turbulence. A new explanation now presents itself, as BA tells us that it is to set up its own cut-price air- line. This will fly out of Stansted to Europe and offer cheap flights with no frills soup would count as a frill. Until now BA has lived well in Europe, where the air fares are the highest in the world and com- petition little more than the label on a file in Neil Kinnock's pending tray. Now it is settling down to undercut itself. The same bright idea occurred to Robert Townsend when he was running Avis in the days when it was number two and trying harder. He tells the story in Up the Organisation: 'To increase our share of the market a few years ago, I was on the verge of announcing the start-up of a new subsidiary, which would compete with our own bread-and butter business, at bargain prices. To verify my own brilliance, I tried the idea out on a tall, rangy regional vice-president called Stepnowski. After hearing the plan described in some detail, he sank the whole project with one sentence: 'I don't know what you call it, but we Polacks call that pissing in the soup." ' Exactly. What wor- ries me about BA's present management is the way that it runs scared of its own brand. First came its quarrel with its cabin crew it made them sick, or so their doctors certi- fied — and then its bizarre attempt to cam- ouflage its aircraft. Now its hordes of con- sultants will be getting ready to charge for- tunes to dream up a new brand-name for BA's newest competitor: Air Cheapo? A brand, as I have been saying, is unique among an airline's assets as the only one it cannot hire. No, thank you, steward, I'll have the smoked salmon. I'm off soup.