Where's Branson's apology?
For a business nerd like me, it’s much more gripping than a blockbusting summer novel. I’m talking about BA’s “summary statement of facts” published today about its unlawful conversations with Virgin Atlantic about changes to fuel surcharges levied on long-haul passengers
Secret talks took place in a systematic way over 17 months between BA and Virgin executives about the plans of their respective airlines to change this important element in the price of airline tickets.
This was not a careless accident. The two big birds – which have a huge share of business on important routes – were not competing properly on price over an extended period: they were giving each other comfort that they would not undercut each other on the fuel surcharge.
It is about as blatant a breach of competition law as it’s possible to imagine.
BA is paying quite a price for its wrongdoing: £350m in fines from regulators and related costs.
By contrast, Virgin won’t pay a penny in fines and actually emerges as a winner, since all the opprobrium of the rule-breach has been heaped on BA.
Virgin escapes any penalties because it was the whistleblower.
Experience indicates that providing immunity to whistleblowers is the sine qua non of enforcing competition law.
But it makes for quite rough justice, since – on BA’s account – Virgin was a willing participant in this shameful attempt to rig the market.
In other words, Virgin’s behaviour was well below the standards expected of it by customers.
Which begs only one question, if it’s not going to dispute BA’s narrative: where is the public apology from Sir Richard Branson?
UPDATE: 22:35 A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic has telephoned to tell me that le patron has now apologised. But the statement he then emailed is not actually in Sir Richard's name. However, here it is: "Virgin Atlantic is sorry that the events took place and apologises to customers."