british airways

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.

Exposure

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.

Loyalty

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.

Cuts First

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.

Tech

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.

Reckless Errors

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…

What The Public Need

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.

Where We Are

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.

How do you feel about British Airways?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation

9 Comments

  1. I always wondered about these airlines’ cost cutting and not caring. Do they look at the numbers? I mean management people up there seem to think that it is ok to be bad but I am pretty sure that is not the reality. I personally do not fly BA unless the fare is really attractive so I can earn miles and status on AA. But that is also changing. I have been looking at my ticketing behavior in the past two years and it seems like I have been gradually moving away from loyalty to cheaper airlines because even after considering the miles and benefits, it is better to book premium seats on non-alliance airlines. Also, the excitement has gone down dramatically. These days, I avoid flying because it has become a hassle rather than an excitement. You have to know which fare is what, what you are entitled to etc. Booking is complicated to begin with. Then on air the service is bad, on ground they mess up and then you have to chase the airlines for months to get your refund or compensation. It’s like you are in a bad relationship. I am still waiting for my refund from BA for almost 3 months. They simply respond that it is processed long time ago but my bank says it should come to my account within a week, max. Given how reliable my bank has been, it is pretty clear who is lying. Simply a disgrace!

    1. I agree in 100%. I am Gold with BA and Senator with Star Aliance. However don’t really care any longer. I always choose cheaper ticket – but with decent airline. Lounges are getting worse and worse, redemption seats more difficult to find or even impossible if in First. Can’t see any benefit for being loyal.

  2. Used to be BA Gold, no more, now down to Bronze, after Silver last year. There are far better alternatives out there, where other airlines make you feel more wanted and welcome. Too many bad mistakes and too much cost cutting. Would not fly BA again, unless there really was no choice.

  3. I think you know my views on BA as it is now… That doesn’t mean:
    A) I enjoyed almost 2 decades of superb service and experiences until circa 2014
    B) I want a national airline I can be proud of not one which both rips off it’s customers with the gaping void between reputation/marketing and reality and their failure to deliver even minimal post flight service.

    CHANGE IS NEEDED AND SOONER RATHER THAN LATER until that happens and BA are *reliably* better than their current Beyond Abysmal I’ll continue to #flyABBA

    PS. Alex, had your organisation apologised and offered reasonable compensation for landing me in Delhi unfed after enduring 9hours in a broken seat with a non functional screen I would have forgiven you and not contributed to your declining reputation.
    The point is the post flight experiences are so bad you not only lose customer advocacy but are creating people whose goal whenever they see BA marketing / stories is to remind people of where you fail… All for the sake of; courtesy, compensation and a relatively minuscule service recovery gesture.

  4. Customer service is HUGE. How an airline deals with me when I have a concern or a complaint is worth a lot in my book. I was loyal BA customer for nearly 20 years. When BA gutted its Avios program few years ago I stopped being loyal and started shopping business flights purely on price and schedule. After a particularly bad customer service experience with BA last summer I am now avoiding BA as much as possible. Yes, I will fly BA when I have to and yes, all airlines screw up. I gravitate now to airlines that have treated me well when they have a judgement call to make. BA has never been good at customer service and has gotten worse in my view.

  5. I live in hope with BA. I remember when their service was impeccable and I would sing their praises to anyone who would listen. When they would let me move to an earlier flight if I got to the airport early, when I always got a gin and tonic (or two), when I knew I’d always be looked after if something went wrong, when I would write to them about an issue and get a personal response, maybe even a few airmiles to recognise the fault. Those days are gone and now I find it hard to justify flying BA if they aren’t the best price, often choosing a competitor as there is little product difference. On long haul, I can no longer be proud to tell others I’m flying BA without hearing comments about their terrible experiences, a little bit of hate builds inside me every time the pay onboard service comes round, I can’t rely on checking my bags all the way through on separate tickets (even although its the same airline) and I cannot get any sort of decent after flight customer service. But I do still love the brand and desperately want it to rediscover who it is, to show it cares, to remember its heritage and its commitment ‘to fly, to serve’. I live in hope.

  6. I recently shifted location to spend more time in the UK, and switched my business over to BA, having used Cathay Pacific for the last decade. My impression of the airline has actually improved this year, as some positive changes started to filter through. The new lounges (at LGW and IAD in particular I have noticed recently, but rolling out in a number of locations) are a big improvement. Service is generally quite good on board, and while the business class hard product is EXTREMELY tired, it’s worth noting that the World Traveller Plus cabins on most aircraft are excellent, among the best PE hard product of any airline. My impression overall this year was they have accepted they cut way too deeply (especially in the premium cabins) and are moving to try and rectify this by rewarding elites (through better lounges, and a still-quite-good FF redemption program (for shorthaul redemptions in particular) and premium cabin passengers (through the way-too-slow rollout of better bedding and food).

    It’s interesting that you specifically referred to the need for them to carry on with in-house design of the business class seats. I disagree – and think that has been one of their biggest weaknesses. Most people assume they have stuck with the tired and not-incredibly-comfortable current design for pure density reasons, but they don’t appear to achieve a vastly higher seat-count to, say AA or CX on their 77W aircraft in the same space, wile the latter to airlines have a superior hard product… It seems to have been a stubborn desire for consistency and their own design that led them to stick with this? I would be quite happy for them to license another airline’s (more comfortable) business-class seat and simply adjust the decor, if it meant a much quicker retrofit of J cabins across the fleet… This is really their weakest product now, although prices are competitive.

  7. Having recently flown on EasyJet to Krakow, it’s hard to justify spending the extra on BA to similar destinations. What the exec board and management of IAG have done to strip away the good parts of BA over the year is something that cannot be undone easily. I for one am tired of overhyped marketing by BA when the product and service itself underdelivers, all at a price that is still too high. What’s more, the constant reference to new products when on the majority of flights you still get the same-old tired seating and configuration of yesteryear. BA still has a long way to go.

    P.s. I counted six instances of where you have used the possessive form of “its” incorrectly as “it’s” — “its” = belongs to it; “it’s” = a contraction of “it is.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.