At it’s core, it probably all boils down to pride and convenience. But the British publics relationship with British Airways has more twists and turns than the worst day time soap opera. Virtually every week the airline is in the press, for better or worse. As someone who covers the airline daily, while engaging with their strongest fans and critics- there are a few things I’ve noticed.
A somewhat new force, driving the strain in the British publics relationship with British Airways is exposure. Youtube, mainstream articles and social media have put competitors innovative seats, lounges and other revolutionary ideas on display to – well, everyone. British Airways has been slow to roll out any revolutionary in flight concepts and therefore people believe they are receiving an inferior in flight experience – with an unfortunately similar price tag. It’s clear the airline must change current public perception of their brand to the refined legacy people hold in their minds.
Despite many factors – the British public has an undeniable love affair with the airline. Traffic on our articles support this notion unquestionably. People love to complain when they screw up, but if we announce a British Airways sale, numbers point to a staggering amount of people still eager to book. This is true even when we point to numerous airline sales. Perhaps it’s convenience but there is an undeniable bond between Brits and their national carrier. For now, there’s still a strong national pride and underdog hope for the airline – a feeling the airline must capitalize on, while it’s around. Whether they want to or not – people have a large passion for this airline.
British Airways greatest real threat is not Emirates wildly neat new First Class Suites, but price. The airline faces more pressure on price than ever before. It’s the single largest driving factor in airline ticket sales. To compete on price, British Airways underwent a vast series of cost cutting measures – and continues to up to this day. Some could say this was necessary to sustainably compete on price, but it was the magnitude which angered customers. The airline is removing recline from many of it’s short haul seats.
But the drops in price came second to cuts and are still slow – despite the current sale. There was a stagnant period for the airline where everything was being cut, but prices weren’t matching competition. This created huge customer frustration. Of course, the competition capitalized. Passengers know what existed before. Spinning things that were taken away, only to be restored as “upgrades” is not fooling the core customer base. Dignity for all passengers, regardless of fare is something the airline must not abandon if it wishes to retain its premium airline branding.
The airline has not gotten enough credit for one particular area: technology. British Airways, surprisingly to some, are at the forefront of passenger experience technology. The airline is one of the earliest adaptors of biometric boarding. This advanced body scanning technology allows four passengers to board at once, saving boarding time and increasing on time performance for flights. Additionally, the airline is significantly invested in mobile check in, app and kiosk features to save passengers time. Time is money – and this cannot be overlooked. The app is one of the best airline apps in the world and should steadily improve.
So why have we arrived at this tumultuous point in the publics relationship with the airline? All of the above factors contribute, but careless errors are fanning the fire. The recent spats involving bed bugs attacking passengers and grounding planes, customers having to fight for rightful compensation and other share worthy news stories fuel a perceived weakness and cruelty of the airline. Much like a weak cub in the wild, the vultures are circling and attacking the airline while it’s down. The stories are so shocking, the numbers do incredibly well for the media outlets, so they seek more and more similar stories. Fairly, or not…
Perception: British Airways is finally offering competitive pricing on long and short haul flights. They simply must. The airline must launch new and innovative in flight products to achieve the halo effect which Emirates, Etihad, Singapore, Qatar and others have garnered. You cannot underestimate the halo. 99% of Emirates passengers will never sit in their first class suites, but the perception of luxury throughout the airline creates higher customer satisfaction.
First Place: No more second place: British Airways needs to resume its role as a leader in innovation. It was the first airline to introduce flat beds, and needs a similar coup. Furthermore, the airline needs to eliminate careless mistakes and make customer service easy. No one wants to fight for what they’re legally owed – and nor should they. No one wants bed bugs, wet blankets or disinterested cabin crew. Standards must be meticulous. The airline cannot abandon plans to design their own bespoke seats in favor of hand me downs from other airline seats from years past.
No Jet Lag: New planes. The airline needs to continue (and fast track) its investment in state of the art Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A350 and revolutionary planes which offer unprecedented passenger experience. This author was lucky enough to pick up a brand new Dreamliner with the airline, and it’s unquestionably one of the best ways to fly.
Sweet Spots: British Airways needs to simplify its mileage program to a point where it becomes a competitive advantage. But at the same time, it must leave exciting crumbs for it’s most advanced fans. The airline has pledged a move to a system where anyone can use points towards any flight. But opportunities to upgrade or achieve other aspirational travel goals must also remain in tact, otherwise frequent flyers will flee.
British Airways is in the middle of an existential fight. With Heathrow at 99% capacity, competing airlines are moving into British Airways backyard, launching more daily flights from more airports to more destinations. In our minds, the airline has reached the bottom of their austerity measures and a charm offensive is underway. But charm, cheap fares and cutting edge technology will all be in vain if simple, cheap errors continue to dominate headlines. Clothing brands are the perfect reminder that what once was cool – may not always be. There’s no more room for error.