Cash crunch forces British Airways to sell its famous lounge art collection

Jun 18, 2020

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British Airways, like airlines around the world, is facing an unprecedented financial challenge.

Back in April, the cash-strapped airline announced it would lay off 12,000 employees — over a quarter of its workforce.

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Now, the airline is quietly selling one of its most valuable assets: its art collection. The collection features work by famous artists such as Damien Hirst and Peter Doig, and one of the works up for sale has been valued at more than 1 million pounds sterling (approximately $1.2 million), as first reported by The Evening Standard.

Many of the works have been mainstays in the airline’s lounges for over 30 years, and at least 10 major artworks are reportedly up for sale. British Airways declined to comment, although the idea of the sale is said to have originated with staff members who suggested having the artwork valued.

A painting by Bridget Riley, currently on display at the Heathrow Executive Lounge, is among those for sale — but you’ll have to pay up. As the Evening Standard noted, this artwork will cost you “well into seven figures.” It was not immediately clear how interested buyers can bid on or purchase the art (we somehow doubt your Avios will be accepted in exchange for priceless works of art), or who will be eligible to purchase the pieces.

No matter how you look at it, the plan is a creative way to save jobs and keep the airline afloat as it weathers the economic fallout from the pandemic. The airline is not planning to ask the U.K. government for a bailout, according to a note circulated by CEO Alex Cruz in April.

Related: Here’s why you should care about British Airways Avios

“We are taking every possible action to conserve cash, which will help us to weather the storm in the short-term,” Cruz wrote in the letter to employees. “We are working closely with partners and suppliers to discuss repayment terms; we are renegotiating contracts where possible; and we are considering all the options for our current and future aircraft fleet. All of these actions alone are not enough.”

The letter from Cruz to British Airways employees followed the release of IAG’s preliminary first-quarter results. In it, the company detailed that total revenue dropped by 13% to $5.7 billion, compared to $6.6 billion the year prior — so it’s pretty clear how dire the situation is. International Airlines Group (IAG) is the airline’s parent company.

British Airways has over 30 departure lounges all over the world. In fact, some of its lounges — at London Heathrow (LHR) as well as New York-Kennedy (JFK) — feature spas where some guests can receive a 15-minute complimentary service, although they are temporarily closed until further notice.

Featured photo courtesy of British Airways.

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