British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence

I’ve always flown British Airways. They’ve always had the best choice of routes out of the UK. Until recently they were genuinely good too.  I’ve sat next to royalty before, it wasn’t just my view! These days I’d almost happily take the gimmicks of Virgin Upper or the lack of a special meal in American Airlines business. But the last few times I’ve flown long haul on business there hasn’t always been space with those carriers…

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker

I used to love my BA flights.  But today, I don’t think I have seen it put better than this article I saw on LinkedIn. As the debate rages on (all over twitter daily) I thought I would throw in my tuppence.  One gets nowhere by putting up and shutting up. One also gets nowhere by moaning or being unpleasant.  But occasionally (not holding out much hope) calmly pointing out as a ‘valued customer’ the problems, may eventually lead to change… I say to my team at work ‘bring me solutions and suggestions’… But here, the only suggestions I can think of is for BA to actually canvas ‘real’ customers for what they want and maybe price itself to its level. Real customers being those that travel to arrive at a meeting refreshed after a long haul or that pay for a flight 🤐 A little different to #BAinvesting4u…

Customer service

Always a good place to start. First impressions count. It sadly feels there is no interest in the customer experience. Yes BA are fast on twitter to deal with the issues. But the fact they have such a big team to deal with tweets says enough!

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker

I fly regularly with work, although thankfully not as much as previously.  With every flight it is ever more evident they are attempting to creep towards budget carrier… Without changing their pricing! The funny thing is, that when I flew (cheaply) to Tallinn with EasyJet, the cabin crew were marvellous – smiling, chatty and helpful.  Despite a plane full of drunken stag do’s!  The service levels were notably differentiated in the opposite direction to price.

Flying Club

We all agree the product is out of date and the ‘enhancements’ unveiled this year seem to be limited to a new washbag and blanket? Credit where it’s due, the new washbag does look nice. I have so many of the little blue drawstring bags (great for camera lenses) that it was time for a change!  But unless you want an aisle seat then you are still clambering over other people to go to the loo for a couple more years. That or stalk the seat availability as soon as you book to get one of the few window seats with aisle access (64K or 64A on the upper deck on a 747 are the best)! Full aisle access is apparently coming in 2019, not quite soon enough! The cocoon of quiet and comfort that one gets in the smaller forward business cabin with American Airlines should be something BA aspire to!

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker

On my last business long haul to LA I actually didn’t get offered a drink until well after take off. Attention to detail is necessary on a £7k ticket! On this flight, the cabin crew tried to give me a dairy desert and told me it wasn’t… It was, I didn’t eat it. I enjoyed the vegan shortbread I’d taken with me from the lounge (always worth planning ahead with BA)! We’ll come back to food later!

Lounges

Apparently the Concorde Lounge is getting a bit of a fix up right now.  About time! We’ll see what it looks like later in the year. The *new* Gatwick South experience a few weeks back was pretty disappointing. Looked good on the glossy blogger reviews, before it was in use 😱 But now its newly opened it’s filthy dirty. No pride whatsoever in the product by the staff.  The main problem with the lounges is that they are too busy. Everyone had lounge status. And what is it with people talking loudly on their phones or children charging noisily around? The US lounges that BA have opened recently are far better – my favourite is the one at Washington DC.  Boston is the same. Somewhere for BA to undertaken market research would be the local lounge in Mumbai – it is superb.

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker

Food and drink

I heard a cabin crew member suggest to a passenger who asked for tap water to get it from the sink in the toilet. Is that really what they suggest now. The toilets aren’t even cleaned properly? Even Wetherspoons would serve a person free tap water from a kitchen tap. More frustratingly for me: if you will charge a premium for Economy tickets and then ask people to pay for food, then at least serve food to cater for common allergies. As a ‘no dairy‘ flyer I can eat the fruit, cashews or Percy Pigs. Quite a meal!

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker

As for business class and first class ‘no dairy‘ meals… I’ve had the same chicken, broccoli and potato dish in both classes on many occasions over a number of years. 6 times since I bothered to count. On our Crete trip, I actually had the exact same meal in both directions – 8 times  now then! It was a slight variation on before (drum roll please): this time with asparagus rather than broccoli! Mixing it up BA – amazing! Also accompanied in both directions by slightly fizzy fruit (because dairy free desert is impossible) and an asparagus and pepper starter. The food I’ve had on the way back from Israel and India though, has been spot on. But I suspect not out of a BA kitchen. Being fussy now, but the fizz really has gone down market.  If the food is drab, at least dress it up with nice bubbles! For this I do have a solution. Aldi. Or Lidl. I have read enough times that their cheap stuff wins prizes for taste and (importantly) value?

Boarding

A complete debacle. Everyone is in the priority lane and it is complete pandemonium.  It resembles feeding time at the zoo, apart from that there is no food of course. I flew with KLM recently and whilst us Brits are the ones known for queuing neatly, it’s the Dutch that actually board in neat and patient lines.

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker

And then there’s the hassle of baggage at boarding. A seemingly random selection of people are told they can’t take bags into the cabin, whilst every other Tom, Dick and Harry takes on too much. Hand baggage restrictions are enforced on an ad hoc basis. This is not acceptable. When one flies with a bag clearly inside the size limit one puts valuables in it and does not carry a lock. To announce at boarding that it is going in the hold and then for the gate-lady to tut (she did) when it takes a little bit of time to repack (not complain, just comply) was like being back in the playground. I was berated for unpacking an Hermes handbag, my DSLR camera and essential medication. No idiot would put that in the hold. I flew back from Dublin with the Moscow State Orchestra once… All the instruments and all the hand luggage they brought along was accepted. We took off 90 minutes late…

Airmiles

Worthless.  We use our Black Amex to get the companion voucher then don’t use it much for the rest of the year.  There is little point, although sometimes you get offered bonus points if you’ve not used the card much! We collect plenty of miles flying with work and so with the voucher we can easily get a first class return trip somewhere glamorous for two. But just booking that one trip is fraught with challenge.  It is nigh on impossible to use up the miles. Who is it that actually uses up the availability? As there is next to none left, even a year out! And the miles only have a value benefit if you fly business or first.

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker

Cabin crew

Flying on an A380 or B787 is great. And oh so quiet.  But this means that if you are trying to sleep and don’t have noise cancelling headphones (provided complimentary in many other business classes), all you can hear are the cabin crew gossiping the night away. It is not a sound proof curtain 🤦🏻‍♀️ I get the sense that the crew mostly try their best, and we’ve come across some stars over the years. But sadly they are let down by the product and run ragged by customers complaining the length of the flight about one un-enhancement or another! Easy solution here: look after your staff and they look after you. I think that’s actually something Branson says (#awkward).

British Airways: fasten your seatbelts for turbulence - Travel with Penelope & Parker


Through work and pleasure we put north of a hundred thousand pounds through BA a year. It would seem that is no longer enough. Despite that being far in excess of the average passenger. When a once super-brand looses touch with its customers it’s sad. But its monopoly means UK customers can’t really vote with their feet.  Bad news for us, not BA. Profits are booming I believe.

I have always had a soft spot for flying BA. Getting on board on the way back home felt like coming home early. Proper tea, a copy of Hello magazine and quirky British pilot humour over the address system… Whilst everything I have written is a first world problem, lots of us have enough of our own real problems. When we fly on holiday or on business we don’t really need the experience adding to the list.

And I know it isn’t BA, but Heathrow T5 charging £3.60 for a car to come onto the site for three minutes to collect a passenger? Opportunist. Top tip – complain! My Dad did as he was appalled when he collected me recently (even though I paid, he didn’t think he’d need his wallet for a pick up) and he was immediately refunded.  Proof of opportunism?

To fly to serve? Time to start serving the loyal customer appropriately again BA.

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22 Comments

  1. August 23, 2017 / 12:49 pm

    Great post Anna! I must say I was not impressed with the Twitter response I had from them last week when I asked them ‘why is it more expensive for a flight to Muscat to use my avios & companion voucher than it is for me to pay full fare’…the response I got was ‘how strange….we’ve never seen that before’. That was it – I genuinely expected them to look into it and get back to me but nothing. The hubbie and I have 4 BA Amex cards between us currently but we’re getting rid of them at the end of the year as the benefits you once had just aren’t there anymore. The 3 companion vouchers we currently need to use will most likely not get used because like you say, there’s no availability even a year in advance. I haven’t flown Virgin Upper but I’ve heard great things. I’m a big fan of the Middle Eastern airlines – their business is top notch!
    Maggie recently posted…A Luxury Travel Guide – Things To Do In MarbellaMy Profile

    • August 23, 2017 / 1:11 pm

      Agree – they used to follow up a complaint or a query but now it is just ‘sorry you feel that way’… I am not sure who the target customer is these days, can’t be first or business as the product doesn’t compete as you say!

  2. August 25, 2017 / 1:40 pm

    I got my companion voucher for this year but am now going to switch AMEX schemes as there doesn’t seem to be much joy at all… I agree that they seem to be increasingly budget service but not at a budget price! Fascinating to read your view as a much more frequent traveler who would expect a much higher level of service for the class flown…
    Jessi (Two Feet, One World) recently posted…The Colours of San Cristobal, MexicoMy Profile

    • August 25, 2017 / 1:49 pm

      We have just managed to use ours on India, thankfully we like going to the unobvious thankfully!! I know, I would expect shoddy on EasyJet but it was a bit of a wake up call when it was better! Yes, it doesn’t improve if you turn left like it used to!!

  3. August 27, 2017 / 7:27 pm

    They aren’t the only airline to go so downhill. I use to love Emirates but my last flight with them (a few years ago now) held no comparison with how they used to be. The food was nowhere nearly as good and the staff weren’t helpful at all – after take-off, my personal entertainment system needed rebooting which they finally managed to do about 30 minutes before we landed. No films for me to help pass the time. I was so disappointed that they had become so shoddy and mediocre.

    • August 27, 2017 / 11:10 pm

      It feels like airlines are turning into bus and train companies, but the pricing just doesn’t match…

    • August 30, 2017 / 10:48 am

      Completely agree with this Kathryn! Emirates are nothing compared to what they were 7-10 years ago. I flew business class last year with them for the first time since 2010 (I switched my FF to Singapore Airlines/Star Alliance), and was horrified at the shockingly awful service, rude staff, and huge size of the cabin on the A380. My luggage was 3kg over-weight as I was moving from the UK to Australia, and they charged me £150 for it!!! As a business class passenger can they not allow THREE EXTRA KILOS? It’s barely anything! The staff were so rude and said to me ‘why do you need that much luggage anyway?’ and then laughed and muttered amongst themselves about it. I was furious with how condescending they were. Economy on Emirates these days is also terrible these days.
      Catherine Lux recently posted…Thoughts On Bloggers Selling Out And Faking Lifestyles.My Profile

      • August 30, 2017 / 10:58 am

        Sounds like generally if one slips the others can get away with it too! I wouldn’t mind if the flights were £99 wow ones, not £5k…

  4. August 27, 2017 / 10:19 pm

    Very much agree with you on how BA seems to have gone downhill – though I’m usually at the back of the plane! The gluten-free selection in the new M&S food is hopeless (one choc bar is about it) and I’ve had more issues with them than anyone else – lost bags twice and after forking out £15 to reserve a seat on a hand baggage only fare (as opposed to about £5 on easyJet) I ended up getting moved at the last minute to a middle seat at the back. It used to be that you’d pay a bit extra and get better service/perks but now the price is still higher but the service standards are worse than budget airlines.
    Lucy recently posted…How can we make tourism sustainable?My Profile

    • August 27, 2017 / 11:12 pm

      All sounds too familiar sadly, can’t even look after the basics anymore

  5. August 28, 2017 / 2:36 am

    I know how much you fly, so I hope they take heed and listen to their paying customers. Certainly legit complaints, every last one of them. Cutting costs appears to be the name of the game these days. It will be interesting to see who will be left standing.
    alison abbott recently posted…Tasting Europe a Viking River Rhine CruiseMy Profile

    • August 28, 2017 / 8:23 am

      I am sure Virgin are watching with more interest than BA! If only they had more routes and had persevered with their domestic routes…

  6. August 30, 2017 / 10:52 am

    This all literally sounds horrific. I flew business class from Paris to London on BA last year and it was the first time I’d flown BA since I was about 14 years old. My only comment really is ‘what on earth is the difference between business and economy on short-haul aside from the curtain?’ hahaha. So ridiculous.

    You should switch to one of the Star Alliance airlines (maybe Swiss or Lufthansa) – they’re awesome because you can earn points on the one airline for ANY flight you take with another Star Alliance carrier! Also Swiss & Lufthansa’s product is amazing (hello free chocolate on Swiss in economy haha).

    C x
    Catherine Lux recently posted…Thoughts On Bloggers Selling Out And Faking Lifestyles.My Profile

    • August 30, 2017 / 11:01 am

      The only benefit of short haul business is for tier point runs! Unless you like the warm hand towel of course! It’s hard to know what carrier to use as the short haul routes I use all the time with work and they have the choice! I have started with KLM now, and sky team. Flybe are almost looking better 🤣

  7. August 30, 2017 / 12:02 pm

    It’s a shame, most huge brands have similar problems with customer service. “The fact they have such a big team to deal with tweets says enough” is a good point.

    • August 30, 2017 / 12:22 pm

      I know, far rather they did their job well in the first place like the rest of us have to do!!

  8. August 30, 2017 / 12:39 pm

    Great post, Anna! I know how exactly how you feel. For years I had been loyal to BA (largely due to the companion voucher perk) but found myself nodding along throughout this post! I am shocked that they told someone to get tap water from the bathrooms – that’s terrible! I’ve found Club World and Club Europe to not live up to the price tag at all. It’s a shame as they were once a brilliant airline. I still think they’re great for convenience, in that they seem to have the best timed flights but it’s clear there is a lot of work yet to be done in their improvements!

    • August 30, 2017 / 12:45 pm

      Convenience is the only way they can possibly getting away with it! T5 and city airport flights are so easy and plentiful… just rubbish!!

    • August 30, 2017 / 1:08 pm

      Something like ‘we are sorry to hear that’… Cheaper to go via Paris or Schipol if you have a couple of hours slack!

  9. August 30, 2017 / 2:44 pm

    I find it really interesting how we can love a carrier so much and how quickly that can change when their business model changes. I’ll confess I haven’t flown BA Business long haul, only short-haul. It was good, but honestly was it worth the expense? I don’t think so.

    As more and more low cost carriers come up in the ranks the full-service airlines are going to have to differentiate themselves from the pack. One way is with service. BA can do better than what you experienced.

    • August 30, 2017 / 2:51 pm

      Totally agree. And customer service is free – they have the staff but sadly they seem to be as anti BA as the business punter! Short haul definitely not worth the expense, apart Greece perhaps or The Canaries as they’re long enough to want a little more space and an empty middle seat!

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