Dear British Airways

I have standardized all my travel on BA. It’s a conscious decision based upon the following experience:

  1. When you reach Gold status then you get an extra baggage allowance and extra weight. That matters when I travel with heavy studio equipment.
  2. The BA lounges in London are among the best in the world. The shared lounge in Sydney is truly world class. Others are less so. The one at Malaga, shared with Iberia is pathetic. Earlier this week I was in the Concorde Room at Heathrow and was able to bring a colleague into the same space on my card. He was able to benefit from the same facilities as myself. Another bonus.
  3. BA staff are among the most courteous in the world. They know who their frequent flyers are and address them personally. There is for instance nothing nicer than to be greeted on board with something like: ‘Good to see you again Mr Howlett, we hope you enjoy your flight.’ It isn’t fake – they mean it because their livelihoods depend upon people like me coming back for more.
  4. You can have a proper conversation with BA staff, whether on the ground or in the air about issues that matter. They’re chatty, candid and have no qualms about telling you where management are messing up.
  5. While the ‘golden days’ of BA travel are gone for staff, those who remain and are in long service provide a thoroughly professional service.

All of which contrasts wildly with the low cost airlines who seem to treat passengers as little more than a vehicle from which to extract as much cash as possible. I am sure that’s at the behest of management.

But…like so many other businesses, there are key parts of BA service that don’t work so well.

Critique

  1. Right now there is a labor dispute in Spain with Iberia staff. BA and Iberia are part of a mega corp that is imposing much needed change on Iberia methods and systems. Staff don’t like it and are striking at certain intervals. Iberia staff are effectively grounding many flights in and out of Spain. BA staff for their part don’t seem to know what’s going on or only have glimpses of the right information. There is no coordination between management and staff such that passengers get a clear message. BA doesn’t communicate directly with passengers about possible disruption. It is chaotic.
  2. I get that labor disputes are fluid situations but having a clear communications strategy in these and similar circumstances would do much to reduce passenger tension.
  3. BAs training policies are slapdash. At least part of the Iberia problem is that staff are having to learn a new system after 20 some years of using their own. This is never an easy task but there seems little on the ground support. BA staff tell me they have similar problems. This goes to the core of managing your people effectively. To their credit, BA staff solider on as best they can but it isn’t optimal. BA could use its own staff to help their Spanish colleagues, but I see no evidence of that.
  4. BA has a nice Twitter presence. However it doesn’t seem well equipped to answer questions and especially not deal with gripes. This is customer care 101 and again, BA could do itself a lot of good by learning from the candor that front line staff share with customers.
  5. BA occasionally asks passengers to complete surveys. Passengers are rewarded for doing so with generous Avios additions to their account. However, the surveys I have seen are methodologically unsound. They point towards providing BA management with ‘feel good’ feedback rather than honest appraisals. How does that help BA improve its service? I don’t get it.

Suggestions

This month, BA has a very good entertainment package with films like Argo, Skyfall and Lincoln all on the menu. However, everyone gets those choices. Would they be better differentiating classes of travel through different entertainment options? I think so. Would that represent a genuine value add for business and first class passengers? I think so.

Arriving in the US is always a tortuous business. Could BA improve its service by negotiating fast track clearance for business and first class travelers? How much of a value add would that be when the alternative is queuing for an hour in circumstances which are only going to get worse as the year progresses?

Concluding thoughts

Digital business and media puts the passenger in a position to render opinions and thoughts that no business can control. As you can see…I am sure BA ‘gets’ that but its responses are patchy. It tries to ‘game’ some of its passengers like me, by giving us upgrades and the like. That is all to the goos and, in truth, is their only real way of encouraging positive feedback. The First Class experience is definitely up there with the world’s best but there are more ways to improve service.

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