The individual aspects of how a national airline is run seems to me to be something that is carefully examined and analysed, more than perhaps any other state or semi-state company, by large swathes of self-appointed armchair experts, myself included.
Having given my opinion more-than-generously in the past on Aer Lingus and its awkward position somewhere between state- and semi-private carrier, you can imagine my reaction when a friend innocently asked over breakfast on Sunday (here in Kuala Lumpur) if I had an opinion on the recent Aer Lingus/IAG ‘discussion’ let’s call it. Yes, yes and yes some more; I nearly leapt out of my seat, affording an opportunity to speak before me to absolutely nobody else present before beginning a poorly thought-out freestyle lecture to the table that swang backwards and forwards incoherently, sometimes questioning even myself, for a few minutes before pausing very briefly – long enough perhaps for someone else to croak a word out more than actually speak – and then continuing on.
For the purposes of this blog, it’d be highly critical and possibly against my blogger’s duty if such a thing exists, not to now vent my same feelings once again here – especially considering my feelings towards my home airline haven’t always been rosy with joy. In fact, at the height of Aer Lingus’ financial woes some years back after Uncle Willie left and things started to hit the skids again, here (courtesy of Facebook) is what I had to make of the current situation…
And I meant it too. The whole lets-follow-low-cost thing was poorly executed, very unbefitting of a national carrier and to be honest, was still uncompetitive with that kind of product against Ryanair. Papers even reported when their now ex-CEO stepped into the breach that it was ‘50/50’ – meanwhile I suggested they improve service, the hard product and differentiate on the basis of quality since they were never going to manage on price. By 2012, that seemed to be happening although moves by Etihad were, at least in my camp of one, warmly welcomed (as you may recall). I still would have been willing to sell the whole thing over a cup of coffee though.
Cue a few more years and honestly, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say my attitude has mellowed significantly. They genuinely do provide an alternative, more upscale experience out of Ireland, they also do not compete on a large amount of Ryanair routes, the price/value for me at least is about right and more importantly, they’re one of Europe’s very few profitable airlines working mostly short-haul routes (compared with BA/AF-KLM/Lufty – all of whom focus mainly on using short-haul to feed their profitable long-haul network). So would I sell now? No, not so fast actually. If at all.
Why not? Aside from my own issues of national pride, I don’t see why – why do IAG (which is basically BA and Iberia) want Aer Lingus? There’s definitely a reason and I think it’s likely to be along the lines of the following;
- They’ve given assurances to use the Heathrow slots for 5 years for Aer Lingus Irish routes. At my most cynical, this would be worth doing for 5 years or more to keep everyone happy, and then simply swap the narrowbody planes currently in service to wide-body (think transatlantic-standard) and cut the frequency in half while keeping passenger and cargo capacity up to Heathrow, all the while finally getting those spare slots for more profitable BA mainline long-haul routes. In the meantime, to reduce capacity somewhat and free a Heathrow slot or three, they could cut out their BA services to Dublin and use Aer Lingus to feed all their traffic to them over in Blighty – that’d instantly cut some capacity (allowing for higher fares), keep feed traffic neutral and free up slots that weren’t Aer Lingus-owned anyway so nobody would have a veto on them.
- Or, at my most positive, they could be cleverly looking at Heathrow which is now an at-capacity disaster area, with scandalous long-haul passenger duty (APD) and high charges and thinking to keep the slots full-on and encourage a reverse of what we all expect; actually use Dublin more and more as a long-haul basis, especially to the US with its immigration pre-clearance and try and keep more of Heathrow out of the picture. In other words, buy Aer Lingus and use Dublin more and more to feed transatlantic journeys at much lower cost. It wouldn’t take too much to nick some of BA’s fleet and give them a quick repaint, lash on a premium fare for Heathrow direct routes and encourage everyone else to go via Dublin.
One thing’s for sure – they haven’t just decided they like the picture on the tail, or the colour of the planes for no reason. But for now, we can all only speculate? If you were BA/Iberia, what do you think are the big benefits of (taking emotions out of it) a reasonably small predominantly short-haul carrier flying to and from one of Europe’s smallest markets? I’d be interested to hear your opinion below.