Warning: Long post!
The growing dissent of British Airways customer has been simmering for the last few years, but it has recently ballooned with a string of events for British Airways.
While I do not for a second doubt their commitment towards safety, often I wonder whether the company cares about the experience of their customers.
Below I share some of the things BA have done in recent times to screw themselves over.
Strike after strike after strike…
In 2017 there has so far been 26 days of strike action by members of staff at British Airways.
Yesterday it was announced the latest industrial action would be last two weeks by Unite, the union which represents their “Mixed Fleet” crew, between 1st – 16th July, right in the busiest period of the year.
(In case you did not know, the Mixed Fleet is a set of cabin crew created in 2010 because the BA bosses (then at the time headed by Keith Williams) could not agree to the contractual demands of their more senior “Worldwide” crew. No-one has been hired under the latter's contracts since Mixed Fleet was created. Normally the only ways you can tell which fleet is operating is if the female crew are wearing hats when you first board your plane, or if the crew look so young that if they had been working 7 years they would have been under age!)
I'm not going to take sides over the Unite and British Airways Management duel, but when passenger service is so frequently disrupted and when BA have such a stronghold on flights out of London, it grinds down the trust passengers have in the brand.
Buy on Board
This was the straw that broke many camels' backs.
By far the most controversial change in recent times for British Airways, and perhaps inspired by the CEO Alex Cruz's leadership at Spanish low cost carrier Vueling, this has certainly gone down like a lead balloon. Even BA staff have expressed their sincere embarrassment that this has been introduced.
It can only be conjecture to put all the blame on him, but certainly as the man responsible for the entire vision and strategy of BA, he must take a good portion of accountability.
Buy on board is traditionally only employed by low cost carriers. Combined with a checked baggage allowance, it is possibly the only thing that distinguishes full service carriers from low cost carriers. The only thing BA was going to offer was cold tap water. Hot water would be priced the same as a cup of tea.
However, if you're going to do it, at least do it well! Even a couple of months after introduction there were many complaints of short supply and slow service, to the extent that half a plane of passengers were not served.
Many ate nothing on their flight and were left with a bad taste in their mouth.
May Bank Holiday IT chaos
Last month during the UK's May bank holiday weekend a contractor accidentally switched off BA's central server which caused flight reservations to get lost and grounded the entire airline worldwide for the weekend.
The initial outage is an unfortunate event which could have happened to any airline, though I do wonder what the backup systems would have been like for other airlines. However, BA's response during and after the event was abysmal.
During the Saturday and Sunday Alex Cruz appeared on national television (in one interview he was unexplainably wearing a high-visibility vest in an office environment) to express sincere apology but offered little substantial comment on what BA were doing to resolve the matter.
Some passengers had no choice but to travel to their destination that weekend. That's the normal course of working life, but BA outright refused to book stranded passengers on other airlines, which would have been the response for many other airlines.
Also, passengers who paid out-of-pocket to fly on another airline to reach their destination were then initially refused compensation upon claiming necessary expenses, when BA clearly had no leg to stand on.
BA later apologised for this action, but the damage was done. BA's penny wise pound foolish approach had been made clear for everyone to see.
An expensive lesson for BA here. Customers will always remember how you treat them in a crisis, whoever's crisis it was.
Ditching the Shareholders' Discount
In 2011 when British Airways merged with Iberia to form IAG back in 2011 there was a resounding silence over the future of the 10% shareholder discounts which BA shareholders enjoyed prior. It later transpired that new IAG shareholders would not get this discount and but existing BA shareholders would.
Fast forward until early 2015 and the shareholder discount is scrapped in its entirety.
British Airways Executive Club devaluations
2011 was a chastising year if you were a BAEC member. In addition to the shareholder's discount annulment above, it also ended its Open Doors policy meaning Gold Card holders could previously visit into the lounges if they were departing on any flight from a terminal with a BA lounge.
In fairness this was a pretty generous benefit to begin with, which no other competing airline offered, and I could imagine other lounge visitors could get rather unamused during school holidays when a normally frequent BA flyer starts to bring his/her partner plus a couple of screaming kids.
Also in 2011, BA changed their entire redemption structure, renamed the BA and Iberia air miles to “Avios”, made sweeping changes to the redemption rates (though to their credit they brought in Reward Flight Saver) and refused to tell Executive Club members the reward chart until the day of implementation, causing many members to be confused and anxious about what to do with their hard-won air miles. Their whole system eventually changed to the distance-based chart it is now with EVERY leg of a journey being charged separately, making long haul redemptions or EU – London- long haul type redemptions a rather expensive affair.
BA acquired British Midlands International (BMI) in 2012 and quickly annulled all of BMI's lifetime golds, but gave them BA gold for a year. A few years later what do we have now? Lifetime BA gold, with not an ounce of concession towards the former BMI golds. This was truly unmerciful.
Early 2015, BA decimated its Avios earning structure and increased long haul Avios redemptions further. They introduced Peak and Off-peak structure and made all non-BA/Iberia/Aer Lingus Oneworld redemptions peak price.
Business and First class redemptions became significantly more expensive during this 2015 too. Previously the reward structure for World Traveller/World Traveller Plus/Business/First had the ratio of 1x/1.5x/2x/3x the price of World Traveller tickets, but changed it to 1x/2x/3x/4x. You can see the up-t0-date award chart here. Combined with the earning rate drop from 100% minimum flown miles to 25% in the cheapest tickets and only 50% bonus for Silver BAEC members, that dream first class redemption just got a whole load more dreamier.
Last year in 2016 BA removed the 4500 Avios redemptions for North American flights. The minimum redemption became 7500 Avios. (see the current chart here).
And finally BA started to block close-in Cathay Pacific awards without telling anyone.
If you are going to call BAEC a “loyalty programme” then at least let loyalty go both ways. Otherwise call it an “incentive programme”.
(Lack of) Seat Selection on Hand Bag Only Fares
This one does have a happy ending. Back in 2015 British Airways decided to cut the free seat selection benefit to all passengers who bought the Hand Baggage Only fares. They did reverse this decision recently. Though there is no official reason for their reversal, they tried to dress it up by trying to say it is a new benefit, when instead it is was just reintroducing what was there before.
Perhaps somehow too many travellers paying £300 for a last minute fare within Europe and being asked for an extra £10 to pay for seating got fed up.
Calling everything an ‘enhancement' and saying it's what the customers wanted
This is the pet peeve of mine. BAEC members know what to expect when the word ‘enhancement' is used by the PR team, and it's not for anything good. I understand the company's need to spin everything in a positive way but there is a distinction between spin and outright lying.
And don't blame customers and say it's what we wanted.
Yes, this post has felt more like a rant and only spewing out mostly negatives, but if not this then what? British Airways' race to the bottom has been heartbreaking to see, as it was a brand I respected when I was a child.
I voted with my feet last year and stopped buying BA fares unless it was an exceptional business class fare for a tier point run (but even then it was only to get superior lounge access in other Oneworld airlines) or to burn up my Avios.
Maybe I'm not the right demographic for BA after all.
Does anyone else have any other experiences they fancy sharing? Feel free to comment below!