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How British Airways Spectacularly Failed Its Customers and Damaged Its Brand

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How British Airways Spectacularly Failed Its Customers and Damaged Its Brand

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 has 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.

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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…

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