British Airways


In July 2003, British Airways (BA) attempted to introduce a swipe card system for its employees. This was at a time when BA was reporting large financial losses, while still recovering from the effects of the Iraqi war, 9/11, SARS and competitive threats from budget airlines.

In 2001, BA began implementing a restructuring system called the “Future Size and Shape Recovery Program”, including the implementation of the swipe card system.   From the program’s inception in 2001 until July of 2003, almost one in four jobs had been cut within the airline. Morale was poor, with staff noting such things as fear, mistrust of management, lack of transparency, poor or no communication of changes or involvement in decision-making.

BA announced that ground staff would use the electronic swipe cards to check in and out of work five days prior to the proposed date for the implementation of the new system. There had been no fruitful discussion with the ground staff in relation to this new system.

As a result of the announcement, and with staff feeling they had no other options, 250 check in staff held a wildcat strike, which lasted for 24 hours. Although the catalyst for this strike was the implementation of the new swipe card system, the case suggested that this change was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.   The underlying tensions between management and staff had long been festering.

The initial impact of this strike lasted for three days with 60 flights grounded and 10,000 customers left stranded.   BA later reported that this strike contributed to a loss of over 40 million pounds, a further loss of 100,000 customers and its public image being severely damaged.

This case study will examine organizational change and through the theory, explore the reasons for BA’s failed implementation of the swipe card system. The following discussion and analysis will examine how the actions of BA’s management, including inadequate planning and a lack of...