Air Transport World

Defending its virtue; a reluctant Virgin Atlantic is in court, trying to force British Airways to do the honorable thing. (Virgin Atlantic Airways)

A reluctant Virgin Atlantic is in court, trying to force British Airways to do the honorable thing.

If it was a duel, one of the combatants would arrive in black formal attire, a dignified second beside him also dressed in black and a beautifully matched brace of silver-inlaid pistols dating back to the 17th century. The other probably would show up with a beautiful woman on each arm, a bevy of photographers and a water pistol.

But it is not a duel. It's a lawsuit and instead of settling it honorably, as gentlemen would, Lord King of British Airways and Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic are being forced into litigation that apparently neither of them wants, over issues that may not be resolved easily.

Since its formation in the early 1980s, Virgin has waged a "service" war against British Airways, taking away BA's customers through innovative service programs that have given it one of the highest customer-loyalty ratings in the industry.

While BA has been fighting back overtly by improving its own standard of service, Virgin now claims that BA's tactics also include subversive attacks against both the airline and Branson.

Virgin Atlantic has filed two separate libel suits against Lord King and British Airways in the U.K. High Court for what it feels is a "smear campaign" of "dirty tricks" against both Branson and his airline (ATW, 5/92, p. 14).

The smaller carrier also has hired Robert Beckman of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Beckman, Kirstein & Murphy as a legal consultant to explore options in the U.S.

Understandably, British Airways has denied the charges. BA's initial reaction was to scoff that the charges represented nothing more than a simple publicity stunt on the part of Branson. However, BA now has filed its own libel suit against Branson. …

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