Dear British Airways: please be consistent

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett March 14, 2014
Summary:
BA gets a lot of things right but when it goes wrong it can be a bitter experience. It's all about consistently delivering a great service and customer experience

BA plane
Like other colleagues, I have standardised on a single airline I prefer to use for most of my travel. In my case it is British Airways. If nothing else and with the amount of miles I fly, I at least stand half a chance of being treated like a human being and not just another piece of cattle to be shoehorned into a flying cigar tube.

A lot if the time it works passably well. At times service is stellar. But it is at times when it fails miserably that I get confused. In that sense, I can liken my relationship with BA as one with an occasionally moody girlfriend. (If you're a woman reading this I'm sure you can substitute dopey boyfriend.)

Bad times

For no apparent or obvious reason, BA staff - or at least some of them - behave in exactly the same way as a 1970s jobsworth with extra snotty attitude. And so it was at London City Airport (LCY) yesterday.

It all started with the check in. Three lines, one busy, another with a family taking what looked like all their worldly possessions and a line with no-one in it other than one person checking in.  Above the check in desk I read New York and at the line Club World.

As I approached the desk, a BA person came up behind me and said: 'We're only checking in for New York here.' My response: 'There's no-one in line is there? It says Club World, I'm a Gold flier - what's your problem seeing as the man doing his job doesn't seem to have one?' That shut the officious person up.

It gets better...(irony warning) because yesterday morning, nothing was moving out of LCY due to pea soup fog. I get updates on my phone via TripitPro faster than the airline information people but even then, the situation was so chaotic that around 9.40am I saw two messages, one indicating my flight would leave at 12.50pm, and another a few moments later saying 10.30am while the information boards were saying 'next info at 10.00am.' This has to be confusing for anyone so I trot over to the BA information desk.

Two people behind the desk are on the phone, another is serving a customer. I don't see anyone else waiting and duly hang around. Another BA employee walks up and I say: 'Excuse me but can you help me please?  I have some confusing information about my flight?' Before I can say another word, this particularly unhelpful and obnoxious person says: 'Get in line but you're wasting your time because there's no information until 10 o'clock.'

'I am in line and how can you possibly know what I am trying to find out when you haven't had the courtesy to ask me which flight I'm on?'

He flounced off in a huff, grumbling under his breath. I eventually saw someone who was pleasant enough but had no more information that was being shown on the public screens. I did venture as to whether the flight would be cancelled and was told that BA does its utmost to get flights out, even when badly delayed.

In the meantime, the BA Twitter account is breezily telling all and sundry that there will be delays at Heathrow due to fog. Well, that's comforting to know over at LCY and I did airily wonder how Gatwick was getting on. Sadly, I didn't see Twitter telling me.

We did get away but with a four hour delay for a 2 hour 20 minute flight and a very rushed exit at the jetway by another officious person who seemed to take delight in treating non-English speaking people like they are idiots.

 

Good times

Now compare this with what happened at San Francisco to London check in.

to fly to serve
I ask if there are upgrades. Yes, if I choose to pay a modest sum. I don't mind doing that on long haul but on this occasion the check in clerk said that the seat choice wasn't worth it and that in any event, she could likely get me in a row on my own to stretch out. This extremely helpful lady was doing her job - providing me, the customer, with the best service she could. There was however a slip up.

I forgot to pick up my passport as I left the check in area and only discovered it after about 20 minutes. I do that occasionally because :

  1. I carry a lot of crap in my wee man bag.
  2. I sometimes get forgetful about certain things.
  3. By the time I'm ready to move on, my mind is somewhere else - usually thinking about food or a coffee - and don't always do a mental checklist of the stuff I need to get on a plane.

Realizing my mistake, I wander back to the check in line - it's fairly quiet. The person who checked me in comes up to me with a big smile on her face and waving my passport. 'I couldn't find you and was just about to put out a message for you on the PA system.' I joke about getting old and she says: 'Oh no, it's entirely my fault. I didn't pass it back to you.'

Again, doing her job, superb service. I'm in a good place.

Once on the London bound plane - which was a fairly quiet flight, a cabin crew member came up to me, addressed me by name and asked if I would like more room because there was more available a little further back. As it happens, I was good and thanked her accordingly.

On our much delayed flight from LCY, the cabin crew were in super efficient form, recognizing that it had been a long and angst ridden morning for all of us and getting our food and drinks delivered with a smile for everyone.

Verdict

  • I've long held the view that once you've bought a plane ticket, the only way the airline can differentiate is through service both on the ground and in the air. It's even more true in the air because regardless of the class of ticket you have, you're in exactly the same place as the next person in the same class.
  • It's clear that BA has woken up to competitive threats and in recent years has done some great work figuring out how to keep its frequent fliers as loyal as possible. I appreciate the attention to detail and service offering for those of us who fly enough to achieve Gold status.
  • BA reinforces its service offering through the 'To Fly, To Serve' campaign, evoking memories of a golden age that has long since past but reminds everyone that is their stated mission. It's comforting.
  • But...it has to do more. I can easily forgive one person's lapse - we are all human - and I can be as grumpy as the next person. What I find harder to forgive are two poor experiences on the bounce, in the same airport terminal within an hour of each other from people who have forgotten who pays their wages. And watching the patronising antics of yet another staff member - well that just grates.
  • Consistency matters and regular customers will forgive all sorts of quibbles when the overall human service and experience is great.