The term flag carrier carries responsibility. British Airways is not one, but global concerns presented an incredible opportunity to make its case as to why it could be considered one, and why other UK airlines may not be necessary. It failed, miserably.
As the flying face of a nation, become a flag carrier means doing the people proud, leading the world in innovation, connectivity and being a positive force in times of need. These are the deeds that earn a prospective flag carrier suitor the “preferential rights or privileges accorded by the government for international operations” which define the name.
As we speak, Willie Walsh, head of BA parent company IAG Group is negotiating with the government, in hopes of stalling or preventing an airline bailout of any kind. Walsh, IAG and BA want other UK airlines to fail before help arrives, so they can pick up additional slots and bolster their position in the UK, as they did with the collapse of Flybe.
If it weren’t for the airlines behavior in the last few weeks, I’d almost consider going along with it, but British Airways and British Airways alone has proven why competition must exist. I wanted this to be the airlines great, shining moment, but it’s been anything but.
Employees are worried, customers are left blind and there’s no sign of that improving any time soon.
As fears of a global pandemic sunk in, the airline disabled “Yammer” an internal communications platform, so its 45,000 staff could not raise concerns about operating flights to covid-19 hot spots, or the fact that there’s no screening of passengers. Those concerns have now leaked to the press, making matters far worse.
The same cabin crew, staff and British Airways own pilots are scared, and they don’t have a way to communicate and share stories. Many tell GSTP they’re utterly frustrated, including many who are BA “die hard” loyalists.
Before the pandemic took full hold of the world, British Airways urged the government not to intervene and assist Flybe, resulting in over 2000 job losses. Of course, the airline ended up with a $100 million windfall in take off and landing slots, awarded directly to the airline, without bidding, when the collapse came.
British Airways is now hoping EasyJet, Norwegian, Virgin Atlantic and anyone else that stands in their way goes bankrupt, by urging the government not to act. At the same time, if this crisis drags on longer than expected, there’s no guarantee that BA could survive without a future bailout, which would present the ultimate irony.
Does the government then bailout the company that said no bailouts? For a flag carrier maybe, but as of this moment, British Airways is not.
If there was ever a case made as to why competition should exist, British Airways made it, on behalf of their airline competition.
I say this as one of the few people who defended the airline through the last two years. I believe the airline has been on a positive trend, announced some clever things and seemed to finally be getting around to getting it right. In many ways, they still are, but you’re only as good as your weakest link, and right now the weakest links make unacceptable seem unacceptable.
It’s how you behave in times of crisis which define character. It’s easy to be “nice” when things are nice, or when business is good, and BA is behaving poorly.
Like… making someone pay a fare difference when a foreign government plans to strand them abroad, and they have no legal option to travel as intended. They did that, numerous times to Brits abroad. Or convincing people to take vouchers, without showing them whether the voucher would be for the full amount.
Even newly issued vouchers still don’t actually show an expiration date or amount. You must flood the already flooded call center to find out…
During it all, British Airways went out of its way, literally, to keep customers from knowing they were legally entitled to refunds on cancelled flights, and then made it impossible for those who did know, to actually process one or get in touch. The airline coded its refund page to hide the refund button when the pandemic emerged.
When BA’s India call center closed, the situation became even more untenable. The irony.
You could be chivalrous to BA and say that this was to save their airline, but airlines in far more dire positions haven’t shied away from the truth. Why? Because it’s wrong, airlines aren’t the only ones struggling and people who are legally entitled to cash they may desperately need shouldn’t struggle to find it returned to them.
If someone stole money out of your pocket in your time of need, would you let it go?
Many people requesting their legal refunds have likely lost jobs, or will soon. How can an airline with any conscious do this to people? It’s not very “flag carrier” style behavior. Of course, this is the same airline group that put “show me the f*cking money” in one of their investor decks. Nice one, Willy.
With the exceptions of Iberia, which is also an IAG airline, and United and Lufthansa, virtually all other airlines have been leaders in customer service, transparency and trust – letting people know they’re entitled to a refund when the airline cancels, but incentivize people not to cancel via voucher bonuses or upgrades.
Or at the very least, they’ve been reachable and aren’t fudging the law.
To summarize, as British Airways is trying to hold other airlines heads under water, they’re duping the British people, their customers abroad and even their own employees.
If not for other airlines in the market, we wouldn’t have any picture of what an airline could or should be during these times, and we certainly wouldn’t have a bidding war of benefits to encourage people to let the airline hold the cash. Aer Lingus kicked off the bidding, then American, Virgin, and every day customers are being presented with stronger cases to support the airline industry.
And then there’s communication.
While virtually every other travel brand found the time to announce extensions to benefits earned via credit cards or frequent travel, British Airways has not. The airline has been largely silent, even as to the extending of American Express 2 for 1 vouchers by 6 months, which wasn’t communicated.
Update: since the publishing of this article, British Airways sent the following to members of its Executive Club…
Steps we’re taking to support our Executive Club members
We are writing to impacted Executive Club members to let them know that we’ll be lowering all Tier Point thresholds [by 30%] for all members due for renewal in April, May and June. This means members will now retain their status for another year, regardless of any flying activity.
Also, for Gold Upgrade Vouchers and Companion Vouchers (or Travel Together Tickets), earned through a British Airways credit card, we’re applying a six-month expiration extension to vouchers in our members’ account. They don’t need to do anything, this will happen automatically. Members can view any existing vouchers in their account. This applies to:
Six month extension to unredeemed Gold Upgrade Vouchers and Companion Vouchers (or Travel Together Tickets), earned through a British Airways credit card.
Six month extension to redeemed Gold Upgrade Vouchers and Companion Vouchers (or Travel Together Tickets), earned through a British Airways credit card, that were applied for travel from 1 March 2020 or thereafter.
Six month extension to Companion Vouchers (or Travel Together Tickets), earned through a British Airways credit card due to trigger in next three months, up to 30 Jun 2020.
Those in the Executive Club Gold, Silver or Bronze loyalty tiers have had zero communication of whether benefits would be extended, renewed or offered opportunities. Yes, the airline has other priorities, but there are people making six and seven figures a year in the loyalty department who haven’t even fired off an email. Their job is loyalty, not the other issues the airline faces.
It’s understandable that the airline may not have a concrete answer as to how it will address loyal customers needs, but a letter stating that considerations are under way and everyone will be looked after is the standard delivered by every other travel brand.
Many airlines have already granted extensions of 6 months to 1 year gratis, or communicated a system where the airline will be there to help travelers maintain their perks. It’s not just once a year holidaymakers that are feeling the burn, it’s the most loyal customers too.
All of these things mean one thing, to me. I’m glad there are other airlines, I’m glad that some have moral compasses with which to follow, and I’m glad British Airways isn’t designated as a national carrier. If this was to be that defining moment where the airline could have lead by example and made its case – it failed miserably.
If it were to receive preferential treatment from any government, it would be without merit. When airlines compete, we win.