Update: Alex Cruz has kindly responded. You can read his comment directly below the post and then go here to read my rebuttal.
Mr. Alex Cruz, CEO Of British Airways,
I want to first congratulate you on an incredible career and legacy, much of which is responsible for the fantastically low fares I get the pleasure of writing about almost daily. Your work has been copied, duplicated and absorbed by so many airlines, which is nothing short of a remarkable feat. You are a pioneer. Unfortunately, your legacy has followed you to a non budget airline I care deeply about, known as British Airways. I’ll explain my concerns, the first of which is that you bring back TEA, the most British thing of all time, free of charge…
As a child growing up in the states, New York specifically, I would often see the gorgeous 747 “Speedbird”, “Queen of The Skies” aircraft approaching New York and think wow, some neat people must be arriving on that flight and boy, it must be nice on that bird. The legacy and importance of the UK flag carrier is never ending. It’s carried world leaders, champions of industry, sport and media and it’s provided “cheap and cheerful” holidays to Britons and folks from all around the world, of all socio economic classes for decades. Keyword: cheerful.
This is where we must change the tone. Cheap and cheerful is an important marriage. For that matter, so is first class and luxury. I genuinely laud your ability to squeeze everything but the rivets out of a plane, giving budget travelers the opportunity to explore new destinations on the cheap, but that’s not the product which British Airways is known for, nor is it up to expectation for the price point you currently charge. British Airways is consistently priced higher than its low cost carrier competition and now the offerings are genuinely indiscernible. You’ve created the perfect “sh*t soup”, where you’re creating a low cost airline that may take so long to be recognized, that it folds. What’s more British than a cup of tea? And you take away that most very basic, natural branding by charging for it? Come on man! There’s cost and then there’s COST!
“On a flight I was offered the opportunity to use 500 Avios (miles) for a bottle of water to which I replied “m’am, this means I spent $500 on my BA Amex card for a bottle of water””
– A GSTP Reader who spends over £100,000 with British Airways yearly… (credit: John Clark)
Not that you asked, but it’s all about the “up sell” in my opinion. Water? It’s a necessity. Water and a tea bag, let’s be reasonable, it should still be free. But for other things I get it, people should pay so that you can keep fares low. Don’t even get me started with this “customization” crap, you know this is not about giving people choices and so do I. If you truly want people to customize (and not devalue) their journey; why not offer opportunity for people to pay for things they really want? If you offered complimentary bottom shelf gin or the choice of Hendricks, perhaps maybe something even more boutique I may very well pay up. Same for food. Offer me a Masala Zone butter chicken dish over some stale sandwiches and I’ll bite! Same for champagne, extra miles, wifi (yes, you need to get that too) and all the other modern fixings people are willing to pay for!
And while we’re here, what about first and business class? What has happened to the innovative spirit, the warmly regarded prestige of British service? I’ve seen better seats in at least five different airline’s business class cabins, I’ve had better meals in many airlines economy cabins and perhaps most frustratingly of all, you’ve shown no desire to change or enhance (no, not the term you guys use to take things away from us), but actually enhance your offerings. Of course the new First Class seat on your Boeing 787-9 is very nice, but you’ve made a commitment to be virtually the last airline flying 747’s, which leaves a majority of your service in a seat which hardly competes. Why? It’s not like it’s cheap!
By now you’re probably wondering what my requests are, so my apologies for the long winded approach, but here we are. I’d like you to make the new IAG long haul low cost airline that’s getting started in Spain into the greatest budget airline on earth, you’re the best man for the job. Please do so by leaving British Airways and finding a replacement keen on restoring the prestige branding and differentiated amenities that many, many people are still willing (and wanting) to pay for. Since our correspondence is new I’d politely ask for a small request: make tea and coffee free again. If you want to become best friends you can bring back the gin too, it’s quintessentially British and I get emails every day from people saying take my free bags but not the G&T that let’s me know I’m on my way home.
We only have a few million readers, which pales in comparison to your flyers, but ours are growing, are yours?
THE Response From Alex Cruz…
“Thanks for the compliments on my earlier career, Gilbert. And I note your suggestion for my future, but I’m really excited by my life and the fantastic team at British Airways and have no plans to offload myself any time soon. Low cost, been there, done that, moved on.
My first flight ever was with BA so I’m glad you also have such fond childhood memories of a BA 747 flying into New York. I don’t know how many years ago that was but I’m guessing it was when British Airways was operating in a very different environment. Restricted traffic rights. Limited competition. Expensive tickets. Strong state support of one sort or another, etc. When I joined AA in Dallas in 1990, the airline industry was barely coming out of that era. It was hard, and exciting!
So different today. Open skies, new airline models across the world, the explosion of seats in Europe, Asia, US, the accessibility of air travel to everyone, etc. and of course, ferocious levels of competition – especially in European short-haul which, yes, I know extremely well. And as you know well yourself, it is short haul where price is the main determinant of airline choice for the vast majority of passengers. And by the way, month after month, BA’s customer surveys, your data, have never placed “food” in the top criteria for selection of an economy class ticket on short-haul flights.
So I’m sorry you’re not keen on our buy-on-board proposition in short-haul economy; lots of people are – and purchasing many thousands of items every day; one month on, the average weekly spend has already gone up 10%. M&S, contactless, pay with Avios – never been done in the industry before.
And hey, it is clear that this service does not make us a low-cost airline; at all – are SAS, Iberia, Aer Lingus, etc, etc low cost airlines? I tell you what would make us a low cost airline: if we removed business class from our short haul flights, if we didn’t add business class to our domestic routes, if we closed down our lounges across Europe and the rest of the world (and if we didn’t invest over $100m in the US lounges alone), if we didn’t improve our Club Europe catering, if we got rid of Executive Club, if we didn’t improve Executive Club, if we stopped the Amex Avios partnership, if we closed down all our frequent flier relationships with other airlines, if we didn’t do connecting itineraries, if we didn’t give your premium bags special handling, if we didn’t allow you to select a seat, if we didn’t let you upgrade a seat, hey, if you didn’t get lucky one day and got upgraded, if we didn’t have a completely separate check-in area for premium passengers, if we stopped flying to LHR and LGW and the rest of the main airports we fly to around the world, if we didn’t let you build itineraries with us and other partne
r airlines to suit your scheduling needs, if we didn’t invest in WIFI for short-haul flights (reliable, fast), if we didn’t invest on power for all short-haul seats, if, if, if… so many if’s.
A good cost base allows us to compete. It also enables us to invest for the customer – which is why we keep on opening new long haul and short haul destinations, why we’re planning a £400m upgrade of our Club World product, plus continuing renewal of our fleet, new lounges, wi-fi on board and many other product features over the next two years.
And I absolutely have to do a better job in telling this full story to you, your readers, and everyone else. I admit it. But we are on it to do throughout the year!
Great things are happening at BA, Gilbert! I hope you’ll stay with us for the ride.”