Retirement communications: Get the hose out

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LONDON HEATHROW — As we taxi in to the gate the Captain comes over the PA on my British Airways jet:

“Ladies and gentlemen. Just to let you know you can expect to see some lights flashing, fire engines… and, well, some water… when we get closer to the terminal. I don’t want you to be alarmed.”

Um. I am thinking that I might just be alarmed. I know that every now and then a plane goes off the runway. I remember when there were tanks outside Heathrow.

Fear is a way of life, but it’s mostly kept below the surface, especially in air travel.

“You see,” the Captain eventually continues, “I am retiring — this is my last flight — and Heathrow has a funny way of celebrating that.”

And that’s it.

A few moments later we pass a fire engine, with lights flashing and a man standing on top at attention. His water cannon is directed at our flight.

The French-Canadian bloke beside me looks out his window, mystified. The water lands shortly after we pass. He jumps. But undoubtedly just assumes it’s some new de-icing manoeuvre. We in the colonies know nothing if not that the Brits can be a bit eccentric.

I looked for the pilot as we disembarked. To thank him, or congratulate him. But he was nowhere to be seen.

Opportunity missed: Retirement uncelebrated

My mom used to say that there are some events in life that are public events, like weddings and funerals. People want to participate. You need to let them in.

This Heathrow display, whether by BA or BAA, was a brilliant little ceremony. There’s no more important event in a business life than retirement. Is used to be speeches, flat champagne and gold watches. What has it become?

I hope the Captain got a few of the traditional tidings… along with the brilliant fire truck salute.

I know BA, and the industry in general, have been in hard times recently. Staff and management may not be seeing totally eye-to-eye. There may be worries about PR blunders. But this retirement ceremony was a great chance to bring employee, business, suppliers and customers together.

We would have loved to have more of a look in. The Captain would have remembered it longer too.

Instead it was like a flash of interesting colour, caught through closed curtains.


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