How British Airways broke this camel’s back

I’m not sure why but the straw has broken the camel’s back. I am currently crammed into a centre economy seat. To the left is a passenger with no concept of personal space and a serious case of halitosis. To my right is another passenger who has ordered the fish menu and has opened it up for me to enjoy the smell.

In front is someone I know that works for BA, who has been given an upgrade to business class. The plane is packed and somehow I feel jilted that BA look after their own employees rather than rewarding their frequent flyers.

I fly a lot with British Airways. Somewhere in the region of 250k miles a year. Mostly economy with a mix of premium economy, business and the occasional first class ticket, depending on who is paying.

By contrast I fly much less with US Airways, though enough to be a frequent flyer. And they treat me curiously well. For instance on a trip to Costa Rica some months back, both myself and my partner got complimentary first class tickets both ways – including a 6’6″ flat bed. In fact I’ve had some sort of upgrade on over half of the US Airways flights i have flown this year.

Because I fly a lot, I get some problems. This is more or less expected and these problems in the last year have included:

  • Destroyed luggage
  • Theft from my luggage
  • Items left in planes never returned to me
  • Crashed planes causing serious delays
  • Being downgraded
  • Flights booked on the wrong dates by agents who refused to change them

What shocks me, and continues to shock me is threefold:

First, I know that BA have a policy of trying to retain their top customers. I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I am such a customer. However the behaviour that they display is in complete conflict with this.

Second, much of the time there are spare seats in a cabin ahead. What is the opportunity risk of upgrading your loyal customers to reward them for their loyalty? I buy the best cabin I can afford and by not upgrading me, BA will not make me contemplate paying more.

Lastly, when there is a problem, there is no worse resolver group than BA Customer Relations. I have contacted them multiple times, filled in surveys and complaints. And never, have they ever offered me compensation, good will, or anything else. They just ignore it.

By contrast I have had equivalent problems with US Airways and Qantas, and both airlines have been helpful and offered me something for my inconvenience.

So I have resolved to do something today. I am going to post this blog and then fill out one last customer survey. BA, you have one last opportunity to do something about it and I am expecting a big gesture. Otherwise, you have lost me, and everyone I have influence over, as a customer for life.

There it is, I have thrown down the gauntlet. On the 1st June, I will post an update, either way. We shall see if BA is capable of engaging its customers.

11 thoughts on “How British Airways broke this camel’s back

  1. anonymous observer from twitter

    John,

    You have obviously been on the wrong end of BA customer service a number of times but I’d like to offer an alternative view.

    I find it amazing that frequent purchasers of a product or service expect a better service and this is overtly apparent when it comes to air travel.

    Do I expect each time I purchase wine from my local superstore that the check out attendant runs off and replaces my £5 bottle for a wonderful £10 bottle ?

    Also, if I am looking to purchase my 3rd car from the Volkswagen Audi group that when I buy a Volkswagen Golf, I actually get given a Audi S6 worth double the value ?

    Finally, if I were to be a train commuter for 20+ years on the same rail line into a major city, I may grumble about on time service and delays but would I expect an upgrade every time I travel to 1st class as I’m a frequent customer ?

    So why do “frequent” air travellers expect the same, buy an economy ticket and EXPECT a upgrade to an alternative class.

    Finally, as a family member of a retired BA staff member I’d like to also encourage readers of you blog to this of the other side of the coin. Staff travel, and the class of travel for airline staff IMHO is part of their overall staff salary package, so the guy in the row ahead of you may be taking his kids to Disney World maybe exercising nothing more than his employers staff incentives. What elements of our own remuneration packages would other consider “perks” and could cause them offense ? Free IT equipment, Free iPhone including all calls made, Free 24×7 telephone support when or free IT equipment breaks, Free home broadband, Free Fuel for personal use ? …… Insert your perks here.

    As I said at the start, an alternative view to and obviously an emotional blog.

    1. John Appleby Post author

      I think you have a fair point and I was frustrated that as a frequent passenger I was crammed into a seat when they had space to make more room in the cabin. But in short yes, I expect to get a discount at those stores I shop at often – and do. Don’t you? How is air travel any different.

      But my beef with BA is summarised more clearly:

      1) They don’t care when something goes wrong and do nothing to rectify it.

      2) There are alternative airlines that are willing to treat me better

      BA employees get a single Club upgrade a year and not on busy flights.

      It’s not so much emotional as wondering if anything will ever get a response from them. In the end I’m pretty much resigned to moving all my air travel to US Airways, which is a shame because there are reasons to like BA.

  2. africanoracle

    Good luck John, did you tweet this too?
    I gave up on BA a couple of years back for all the reasons you cited but even more so because they are not cost competitive. I just flew a maple leaf emblazoned carrier and saved myself nearly $400 on the prevailing BA fare, had in seat power and more leg room. Loyalty to airlines I am afraid is done. Route and rate is all that matters now.

  3. Mike C

    One of the things that strikes me most when I have flown with BA is the obvious difference in the way their staff treat customers based on their ticket. I was on a family holiday, and we were flying business class. Halfway through the flight my mother got up to use the lavatory and decided to go back through the curtain separating business and economy classes to use the facilities there as there was a queue in the business class section. While she was in the toilet the seatbelt sign came on and as she came out she found a female member of cabin crew talking away to another passenger. My mother stood their patiently waiting for a moment to politely interrupt and ask to get past. Eventually the attendant noticed her there and very abruptly told her to return to her seat. When my mother said that she is going to the woman said, and I quote, “Well stop hanging around here being nosy then and return to your seat.” My mother then tried to move past the attendant to return to the business class section and the woman blocked her path asking her where she was going. She was thoroughly unpleasant through out the whole exchange. However when my mum explained that she was a business class passenger the woman’s whole demeanour changed and she suddenly transformed into a simpering, sickening suck-up who couldn’t do enough for her. Sadly I wish this was an isolated incident but I have witnessed this attitude on more than one occasion.

    What I should say in the interest of fairness though is that this attitude is not contained to just BA staff, and indeed it is not the case with all BA cabin crew that I have encountered, the majority of them are lovely people. However that incident sticks in the mind not just for the particularly nauseating woman involved (the cabin crew NOT my mum) but also for the way BA handled the immediate and very angry complaint we made. We made a phone call to BA as soon as we arrived at our destination detailing our complaint and within 5 minutes we had been upgraded to first class for our return flight, all 6 members of my family, and my parents had been offered a choice between 2 first class return flights to New York or financial compensation. Whilst this is obviously very satisfactory compensation for what was merely a run-in with a woman with an over-inflated sense of self-importance I do wonder if BA would have been quite so accommodating had we not been travelling business class, and my father had not been in business with BA at the time. Indeed I also remember a story of how when he was much younger he had been sent by his company to Singapore in economy class and had been stuck in a window seat next to a woman who wanted to discuss her life story with him. Given the plane was half full, he went and asked a member of cabin crew if he could perhaps move to one of the empty seats so that he could get some sleep. He was refused this request and when he decided to do it anyway he was asked to return to his seat, When he complained after he had landed he was told he was expected to sit in the seat allocated on the ticket. Ridiculous.

    Clearly from John’s own experience and that of my parents there is only one rule – you are only as good as the latest ticket that you’ve bought. Profits before customer satisfaction.

  4. Michael Johnson

    I work in the British Airways press office. Please email me your contact details. Regards.

  5. I

    Maybe you are not allowed to change seats after boarding incase the plane crashes. The booking details with allocated seats and names would help to work if people were missing? Maybe a safety issue. But I agree its annoying if there is a spare seat!

    Does anyone know if you still get free flight socks and toothbrush travelling to New York from London in economy?

  6. Alan Bowling

    So what was the outcome? You promised an update! Intrigued as have had the same experience. Recently flew with Qatar which was excellent – probably best I’ve been on.

  7. Pingback: Did British Airways pay off Kim Kardashian for her stolen luggage? | People, Process & Technology

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