The leaders of Europe’s biggest airlines owned up to a grudging admiration for rivals they spend most of the year attacking at the end of an industry event in Brussels.
Asked to swap hats -- metaphorically -- after a meeting of the A4E industry lobby group, the five leaders disclosed which other operator they’d choose to run for a week (with varying degrees of seriousness):
- Deutsche Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said he'd pick British Airways parent IAG, admitting that he's jealous of its position in a London market that's the biggest in the world for air travel.
- IAG's Willie Walsh said he'd run the Dutch unit of Air France-KLM and agitate for it to jump ship to his own company. That's after the Netherlands bought a stake in the group amid a public rift with Paris.
- KLM boss Pieter Elbers said he'd choose to head up Ireland's Ryanair, though only to persuade the discount giant's frugal customers to pay more to travel in comfort.
- Ryanair's Michael O'Leary admitted to an urge to take Spohr's seat and "control Germany and Austria," before also opting for KLM, where he said he'd tell the government "buy more, buy more!"
- EasyJet's Johan Lundgren said he took the fact that his peers all overlooked the U.K. airline as an admission that they couldn't do any better than him -- and that he'd happily take on any of their jobs.