Before I start this post, I must first make a couple of sincere apologies. As a result of travelling a great deal, I often write about my experiences of doing so. Some of the best and worst experiences I have ever had have been whilst travelling. I acknowledge how lucky I am to go to the places I do and want to apologise to those who tire of reading about my highs and lows around the world. I also want to apologise for writing in a negative sense about a brand. I never get any pleasure from sharing poor Customer Experiences – so many of the people who work for the companies I write about are trying their very best for their customers – yet I write about them when I feel that other companies can learn from understanding how to leave customers with memories – both for the right and the wrong reasons. Now I have my apologies out of the way, let my rant begin….
It does not matter where you come from around the world – everyone knows British Airways. Even if you have never had the opportunity to fly, BA is an iconic global brand. Over the years, I have flown with them many, many times and have written about them positively… and not so positively! As a proud Brit, flying with BA has often felt like a comfy pair of slippers – dependable; reliable; positively British – getting on a BA plane has regularly felt quite comforting. Yet in recent times, BA’s dependability has started to wane – and quite significantly. I am frequently told by colleagues and peers that they purposely choose not to fly with BA. Words like ‘bland’ and ‘corporate’ are used in association with the airline – one person suggested that BA was positively ‘boring’.
I actually think that boring is not always a bad thing when flying – as long as it ‘does what it says on the tin’, then most customers are happy. However, this is where the problem comes. BA is NOT a low cost carrier. Whilst Ryanair have made ‘doing what it says on the tin’ a profitable art form, BA’s proposition promises so much more. When you expect more from any brand, it is a significant disappointment when that brand fails to meet your expectations.
In the last eighteen months, I have flown in BA’s long haul business class (Club World) on multiple occasions. The amount of money that has been paid for my multiple trips runs into tens of thousands of pounds. You would think that if a customer is spending significant sums of money that they would receive exceptional and consistent experiences from that company. You would be thinking wrong. Only a few weeks ago, on a flight back to the UK from Accra in Ghana, the cabin crew completely ‘forgot’ to serve me my meal – yes – completely ‘forgot’. I was eventually served my meal with a hollow apology. If you can believe it, they then forgot to serve me breakfast – by the time they realised, it was too late to serve it to me. For an experience costing a few thousand pounds, it was not acceptable.
Ironically, I am writing this post on another BA flight – this time to Newark in the US. On this occasion, it took over 40 minutes to serve my main meal – everyone else had been served theirs. I did get an apology…. Eventually… but it is just not good enough. Now it may well be I am doing something wrong – I do sometimes ask if it is just me – but anyone who travels with me will know that I am the nicest possible passenger you could ever have – unless something goes wrong that is!
Yet these meal misdemeanours pale into insignificance with the events of the last three weeks or so. You may not be aware that BA have upgraded their computer systems. If you did not, you may also be unaware that the implementation of this system has been an un-mitigating shambles. To cut a long story short, the system is not working properly. I experienced this for the first time two weeks ago when travelling back from Johannesburg to Heathrow. It took the check in staff ninety (90) minutes to check me in – you read that correctly – I stood at a check in desk for ninety minutes. The reason – I still do not know. They kept claiming there was a problem with my ticket. Several calls to my travel agent in London later (at my cost), it was clear that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my ticket. During the ninety minutes, I was not once offered a glass of water – or somewhere to sit. In fact, it was not until the duty manager for BA arrived an hour in to the debacle that anyone apologised for the wait.
At the ninety-minute mark, the duty manager asked the check in staff to take me through to the lounge – promising me that the problem would be sorted and my correct boarding passes given to me at the gate. Did that happen – of course not. Once again, I stood at a desk at the gate for another thirty minutes while someone tried to sort the problem out. Eleven hours later, when I got to the gate for my connecting flight to Manchester, the problem was still not rectified – I do not know if it ever was – an atrocious experience for an experience that once again cost multiple thousands of pounds.
The volume of passengers experiencing BAs computer system shambles runs into the many thousands. Today it took me over an hour to check in to my flight at London Heathrow – and I was in the first class queue – I hate to think how long it took others to check in. During my time in the queue, I did not spot a single member of BAs management – not a single one. Not one person offered anyone an apology. There was not a single announcement over the tannoy explaining what was going on. Think about passengers with young children – or elderly passengers – having to stand for hours without any explanation. There is no doubt that organisations sometimes take their customers for granted – airlines are pretty good at that – and this is an exemplary case. What was even more remarkable was that beyond the departure hall, no-one seemed to be aware of the problem – from security to the BA lounges, to the crew on my plane – no-one had been told there was a problem. Appalling.
BA have spectacularly failed me in the last two weeks alone – just because I have a gold card, do not ever think that I am your hostage. I do not want compensation – I do not want sympathy – I want BA to genuinely and sincerely acknowledge what they have done to their customers in recent weeks. I want them to genuinely and sincerely apologise to any passenger who has been struck by their inability to implement a computer system correctly. I want them to communicate with and reassure their frequent customers what is being done to ensure that they are not inconvenienced going forward. I think they owe us all of this… and it is not too much to ask. I also want others to learn from this. Things go wrong – human beings understand and accept that – but not dealing with things that go wrong in a genuine and empathetic way will have consequences.
I hope BAs senior leadership read this – I will be sending it on to them. I hope that the next time the computer system fails (which I expect it will), they have the courage to go out and face their customers – and do not leave it to the very hard working and beleaguered ground crew – they are trying their best in very difficult circumstances. Will I keep flying with BA? Now that is a question – we will have to wait and see…
Now that is what I call a rant! I hope they get their system fixed before the end of this month, when the number of airline passengers doubles……errrrr. Incidentally, i am flying RyanAir for the second time this year tomorrow. I have found it to be pretty good so far 😀
I no longer have a Gold card just a Silver one and the service I received on my last trip across the pond last week was similar.
Late flights, ran out of food options after just a couple of rows in premium economy, screens not working correctly, flight late leaving and arriving in both directions and what is the point of priority stickers on luggage? When I arrived at Toronto my bag was one of the last out 90 mins after we landed 60 mins late! All this means that BA is no long my first choice. It used to be that I would do everything I could to fly with them but no more. As you say they charge premium prices for a low cost services.
Again please sort it out and give us a way to spend the hard earned Avios without all the excuses of “you didn’t book with us” or “no availability” even a year in advance.
Great post and bitter-sweet. I’m currently waiting at Gate 13 at Edinburgh airport after BA cancelled by 08:45 flight to London City. Zero notice, no explanation, no complimentary lounge access or other compensation (I’m only Bronze since I try to avoid BA). I feel like chanting, “Are you Alitalia in disguise” :-)) (Where Alitalia = Always Late In Take-off, Always Late In Arriving)
Seriously though, their Customer Experience has not only stalled, it’s gone into a nose-dive.
I have also had terrible problems with BA over the last 10 days. I needed to change the date of my outbound flight and due to the ‘new’ computer system could not do this online. But I couldn’t get through on the phone either – it was simply engaged every time or there was an answer message saying they could not take calls.
Eventually I got through after I was on hold for 40mins only to be told the agent could not give me a price for the change of flight and would need to email the fares team. A week later they were still unable to give me a price to change my flight. Eventually I did get a price and changed the flight but not before 2 more calls to BA where I I’d to wait 35 and 45 mins respectively to get through to an agent.
When I commented on the time to get throigh on the phone I was simply told ‘yes, we’ve had quite a few flight cancellations so the phones have been busy’. No mention that the true problem is the website and systems aren’t working so customers are forced to call instead. They even had the cheek to try to charge me £30 admin fee for making the change by phone! They didn’t succeed….
Everything you say is true. Ground staff are stressed to the max and are breaking down in tears daily. A terrible senior mgmt team that are not available, not visible and not supportive of staff. And a new ceo who is only interested in cutting costs tells staff ‘it’s not the system thats a fault its the staff’
Staff would be willing to work but BA won’t pay for the overtime!
Totally agree, I am lucky enough to fly Club to the Caymans each year and the pries go up and up, the plane gets older and older and the service has plummeted. We used to be able to upgrade using points until one year, after booking a year in advance, we were bumped. They said it wasn’t because we had used points but we booked the seats the day they became available and we were the only ones bumped. They just told us there was an issue with check in and all would be fine. That was until we were boarding when we were told we could either get on the plane, into premium, or not travel !!! They just pushed us from one person to the next until there was no where to go.
As they are the only airline that fly direct, we have no choice than to fly with BA but if ever there was a choice, we would go elsewhere. Great to hear they have now reduced the luggage allowance in Club, yet another service reduction for us and profit for them.
Sadly I’ve had similar experience with BA …19 flights in last 12 months to/from Asia …gold card holder ………close to switching to one of the ME carriers for a year ….I feel they really want your business, and will go out of their way to win it!
And BA “Customer Services” department – if you do point something out, or dare to complain …..they do a great job making you feel like it was your fault in the first place!!!!
So, what about Emirates, Etihad, Qatar …any thoughts anyone?
Came back from Cannes a few weeks ago with BA it was spectacularly a poor experience. Was hoping it was a one off, but reading these other comments, I wonder
Firstly, I am a member of ground crew at Heathrow, I’ve been with the worlds favourite airline for 32years, I am ashamed to call the worlds favourite any more, over the last 5 years I’ve watched this once reconised global brand ripped to pieces with mis management and poor desision making, complete lack of respect for its customers and staff a like.
Training for its staff used to be top class, now it’s so poor, staff are under pressure to deliver a brand that has colasped into a heap with senior management making it up as they go, feedback is seen as negative from staff and told to work round issue’s, maning levels are low, why, because we now employ staff on lower pay, flexible working hours with one break, built into there contract in times of disruption they have to stay on, school leavers, turn over in staff is a joke,
When you joined BA, it was for life, proud to wear the uniform, proud to deal with customers, proud to be able to use the tools surplied to deal with disruptions.
I can speak for many of us that truly feel for our customers, truly feel for our colleagues,
Is there a solution, as a once proud BA employee, I really hope so, my heart tells me that this management team is not good enough to take us back to how we used to operate,
Ian, once again you are living proof that a brand can fail a customer and he will continue doing business with it. Worst that will happen is that some customers will rant. Then having got the rant of their chest, go back to that brand.
It occurs to that your ranting is a firm of supplication: please, please, please BA leaders make things work so I am committed to flying BA and don’t want this hassle.
You give lie to the core CX myth: if CX sucks then customers leave in droves and never come back. Rubbish: they rant and keep coming back. Too inconvenient to change
No wonder that most execs ignore the Customer BS.
Consider that if CX that bad and CX theory was true then BA would be bust by now given that which you share. Yet it continues…
Hi Maz – rather than go around in circles on this, I refer you back to this post – https://ijgolding.com/admin/2015/02/17/opinion-or-reality-does-customer-experience-really-make-a-difference/
We are all entitled to an opinion and I very much respect yours – this post represents mine. Interestingly, BA no longer feature in the list of the top ten largest airlines anymore (by passengers carried) – carry on as they are and it is likely that they will lose market share going forward.
Thank you for your continued contribution.