by John Ward
I have to hand it to the airlines: what their products lack in terms of comfort, edible food and punctuality is more than made up for by their irrepressibly on-the-ball tactical marketing. You might not want to be a frequent flier with Iberia or Aeroflot, but you’d sure as hell be happy if you were a shareholder.
The speed with which the majors have responded to the tactical opportunity offered by person or persons unknown attacking the Skripal family is a tribute to the tactical creativity of high-flying business generators.
In case it had escaped your attention, the Salisbury Nerve Gas caper has now resulted in some 461 diplomats around the world having to relocate. But the total amount of travel involved here is mind boggling: the 461 have to come home, but then another 461 have to be flown out to replace them – and then in turn, another 461 diplomatic spaces need to be reallocated to them…..and the 461 they replace have to be temporarily bumped off that gravy plane to another one in some unspeakably ghastly country ending in stan.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For in every country where there is a tiff with a neighbouring country (aka everywhere) each and every year – either in November or March depending on the fiscal model adopted – the secret service approaches the political class with a cast-iron argument that runs like this:
“They’re expelling our people. That means they’re onto us. We desperately need new people on the ground to counter the intelligence they’ve stopped us from gathering. We reckon a budget upweight of no more than 68% should cover it”.
Foreign Service bureaucrats chose their career based entirely on the idea that the past is in fact an excellent guide to the future, and in this instance they were absolutely right: for it is an immutable principle of espionage that their universe has never in the entirety of modern history contracted. Bogeymen may come and go, but snoopers expand according to the amount of paranoia available to contain them. And as the species Homo sapiens has an infinite capacity for fear, by and large the joy of spooks is uncontained.
First into the fray was American Airlines, headquartered in Texas – and thus as well-informed as anyone when it comes to whassup in geopolitics. Just 24 hours after the global diplomatic expulsions began to take shape, AA launched a new loyalty scheme, Spy Miles.
Designed to steal share of the lucrative First Class market, Spy Miles offers every credibly deniable double agent ten times the miles of air travel for every expulsion journey, while guaranteeing all similarly affected diplomats a 50% discount on flights to Chile, Zimbabwe, Mexico and Cuba, plus free access to Hollywood starlet cabin crew and what it calls “the bottomless vodka martini, a little shaken by events but not at all stirred”.
Close behind but equally inventive was British Airways, which a week ago launched its Collective Security frequent flier offer. Every espionage agent on Earth travelling First Class with the airline will from now on be guaranteed 24/7 protection from nerve agents during the flight plus a free phial of Novichok antidote just in case the nerve agent protection turns out to be marketing BS. A handy additional feature is the anti-tarantula spray issued to any passengers labouring under the illusion that they might be Bond, Jamesh Bond, agent double-0-sheven, mish Moneypenny.
Lufthansa’s response tries very hard to be UberAlles – and as you’d expect, its MaulwurfKilometer plan to increase loyalty in the spookspace niche is hard to beat. All diplomatic passengers able to prove serial disloyalty to any two countries get a free Business Class fight to New Zealand plus the means to escape such an unwise decision by a variety of methods, eg rowing boat, lawnmower, breast stroke or guaranteed passage on an authentic World War II U-Boat, subject to availability.
British Foreign Secretary Doris Jobsworth tonight declared himself “delighted at the response of our internationally aligned airlines to my scheme to boost élite air travel and boycott the Russian World Cup, which as we all know is just an excuse for Mr Rasputin to play the much-coveted role of Adolf Hitler in the forthcoming Anglo-America production How Kruschev Killed Kennedy.”