British Airways – I am so disappointed in you

British Airways – if only your (We’re here to help) customer services were as good as your air crew

After recent trips to the Carribean once with British Airways and once with Virgin, I realised that Virgin were no longer everything they aspired to be, or had been in previous years.

So when I decided to go to Argentina and Patagonia, I chose British Airways over Virgin.

I got to Heathrow one hour earlier than necessary because I had booked extra leg room and wanted to ensure I got this for such a long flight – it was as though premonition had kicked in and a sixth sense told me to expect trouble with the ground staff

It was a thorough disappointment, as you will read in my email that I wrote to Willie Walsh the BA chief executive during my return flight from Santiago to Madrid.

(Update December 2014 – I have still to receive a reply let alone an acknowledgement from Willie Walsh – after resorting to twitter I finally received a response from a person in British Airways rather than an auto reply system, but nothing yet from Willie Walsh or even his assistant – very unsatisfactory)

Mike Ogilvie

6April 2014

Letter to Willie Walsh

CEO of International Airlines Group

To “Fly to Please” not To “Fly to serve” ?

Dear Mr Walsh

I have had the chance to fly on Virgin and BA/Iberia this month and, while I believe you are getting some things right, I believe there are a few fundamental issues on which you need to work hard to return BA/Iberia to the “Worlds Favourite Airline” , which I assume is one of your goals?

Can I start by saying how impressed I have been with your flight crew both in September last year and also in March this year both long haul flights, one to and from Barbados, and the other to Buenos Aires in March this year. However, the flight crew in my opinion should be “the icing on the cake” of the overall experience in dealing with the International Airlines Group (IAG)

Let’s start with the Virgin comparison also to and from Barbados in March this year and an earlier comparison with a trip from Cape Town the previous year.

Both Virgin trips were so disappointing in service standards that you would be excused for preening your feathers in reading these comments. Their crew must have been recruited from a local supermarket team in that they appeared to be more interested in talking amongst themselves rather than talking to and engaging with their customers.

They even “ran out of beer” on the flight to Barbados just after serving their meal, using the excuse that they had to keep some beer back for the passengers returning from Barbados – most “un Virgin like” according to the other passengers on the plane.

I have not found this with your BA  crew who have been ready with a smile when engaging with us in the economy class . If I had been in business class I would have expected to be treated well but my experience with BA has definitely improved from a few years ago when I vowed to avoid BA long haul as much as possible.

I do have some suggestions however for further improvements to perhaps improve perceptions of your airlines, and I will return to these shortly.

All of us in business are only as good as all our team and I have a big issue with your systems and support team.  I took the trouble to go online and pay extra for more leg space both on BA going out to Buenos Aires and also on Iberia coming back from Santiago .

Yet I get to Heathrow 3 hours ahead of the flight to be told we can check our luggage through but can’t go through to the  departure lounge because the plane is being changed due to an incident and they can’t issue seats yet.

I asked if it was a similar plane and was told yes it will be another Boeing 777 and there should not be any issues but they could not issue seats yet. I explained that I had taken the trouble to go online to pay for extra leg space – the reason being that, despite my relatively short legs, on my recent Virgin flight paid for by someone else, I had travelled economy and I felt I had been constrained with so little space that it felt worse than flying Easy jet, and in a long haul flight this was most unpleasant.

I was assured that as it would be a similar size plane I would not lose out, but the lady I spoke to said she could do no more as she knew no more. I would have to wait for 30 minutes , and then another 30 minutes, and then a further 30 minutes.

After a further 30 minutes I noticed some people who were on the same flight were leaving the bar to check in their luggage. I had already checked in our luggage and was frustrated that I could not go through to the departure lounge but accepted that everyone seemed powerless in the circumstances.

We went to a check in desk and were issued our new boarding pass – yes you guessed right – not in the exit row that I had booked.

I explained that I had paid the extra so if it was a similar plane with a similar number of exit seats – how had my paid for seats been allocated to someone else?

All the guy said was ” When you get back write in for a refund !” Great – thank you very much indeed – no sorry, no attempt to see if an upgrade was possible (because “I am not empowered to do that” – “you can always speak to customer services” )

I hope you agree that is just not acceptable. I am trying to be reasonable and understanding and expecting some understanding in return, or was I expecting too much. Were the BA internal systems more important than doing your best to keep your customer happy?

So I went through and looked for Customer Services – nobody there – presumably gone off duty despite at least one plane full of customers still there – is that acceptable?

On the plane I could not fault your crew- they were attentive and I felt they engaged  with us well, as well as they could on a long overnight flight. I then get an email from your mystery shopping service within a few days asking about my experience with BA.

You can imagine I wanted to give immediate feedback that I was very unhappy and all they kept asking was why I was so unhappy having already given them a full explanation of the details at the beginning of the questionnaire. In the end It urned off but I will try to find it again when I get back to UK.

Now I am on the Iberia flight back to UK via Madrid from Santiago.

Again the crew seemed very pleasant and I found no reason to fault them at all initially, until a couple of quite fundamental niggles mentioned later, where their response was typical old Iberia and not what I hoped from new IAG.

However in checking in , I explained I had paid for more leg room via the BA and Iberia site. Sorry – he said – I have no evidence of this.  Not his fault – at least he was very apologetic. But again a question mark about your systems – why cannot he see that I chose to pay extra for extra leg room?

I get through to duty free and am not allowed to buy wine in Santiago because apparently it will be confiscated in Madrid even though I will be in transit and will not be removing the wine or my luggage. I have not encountered this before – is this a new rule?

I realise the previous issue is not a BA  issue but it made me think

In this day and age of increased competition and higher expectations of customer care and service (unless your name is O’Leary and you are running Ryan Air), it seems to me that IAG appear to be missing a trick here to retrain your overall team (not just your flight crew) “to fly to please ” – instead of “to fly to serve” -in fact I would be wanting to replace your logo to something outward focused like “passionate about delighting you” rather than the more dreary inwardly focused “to serve”.

If that was my new slogan and I was running IAG , I would start to see what habits I could change in my team to get them actively “looking to please” rather than passively “looking to serve”

I have to confess that I do have an interest here in that as a business adviser and international conference speaker I look to celebrate great habits and great behaviour in business, and I do realise how difficult it is.

I am sending this to you as constructive feedback, rather than just as another complaint to which I imagine you have become immune.

Nevertheless you know it is the way to distinguish your business, and when a company like Virgin have made their name celebrating their behaviours and habits when compared to BA and other airlines,and yet are clearly letting their standards slip, now is the time for IAG to “ramp up the volume” and reconsider your habits and behaviours.

For example,  on Iberia I was delighted to find metal cutlery (and thank goodness because the meat selection was tough) and I wondered why BA are not offering metal cutlery. I am sitting on row 22 and I have no video to watch because the video in front of me in row 19 is only showing a map of the flight.

It did not even show the safety instructions before take off????
Is that acceptable ?

My seat and my wife’s seat in 22d and 22e does not recline and there is no sound connection to channels 1,2, or 3 with the ear phones. The seat controls do not control the lights or the crew call button. To get a light to read I have to stretch up to the ceiling to switch on the light manually – are these seat controls irrelevant ? and I have paid extra for this seat – do they care?

No it appears not – maybe they have no wish to please – just to serve?

The crew just shrug when asked and said you can’t have everything. Is that acceptable?

The Spanish lady next to us in 22f is furious – her seat reclines but it is stuck and can’t be brought upright. Her comment is priceless “and people wonder why Iberia got into such a mess!” The lady continued ” it appears our seat controls are ornamental – perhaps like the stewardess!” Or perhaps our plane is just very old and not being maintained adequately?

Perhaps like the stewardess who appears by her comments to be ingrained with old habits?

It makes me think of SAS Jan Carlsen’s old book “Moments of Truth” when he said “if one of my passengers boarded one of my planes and found a coffee stain on their meal tray what must they think of the state of the plane’s engines?” – over the Brazilian jungle shortly to travel over the Atlantic, I prefer not to spend too much time on that thought – do you think I am being unreasonable ?

Two hours after dinner I visit the loo and then pop my head round the servery to find two stewardesses sitting down reading their books. No problem with that.

I asked for a glass of water – she hardly moved to pour some water into a plastic glass and handed it to me without a glance – sorry señora for disturbing your story 🙂

Half way through the journey the crew are bringing round sandwiches and juice. I asked for a coke and was told  by the steward “no – water or juice” – if you want coke come to the back later (not sorry I have no coke- I will bring you a coke when I have finished serving the sandwiches) – hmmm!

But one good thing – I showed him that my seat could not recline – he fiddled with something at the corner of the chair and said – “now try” – eureka it worked and so did my wife’s (shame the stewardess did not know this magic trick)  – I might be able to try to sleep now and stop my letter to you.

Oh – there are no mask and ear plugs offered – why is that when BA always do, as do Virgin?

I am happy to meet you, or one of your colleagues, to discuss these points further and to discuss how you might develop and fine tune your customer care training – I am trying to be constructive here.

For example – back to the meal – on a long haul flight would it not be great to not only offer me a choice of main meal, but to also offer me a choice of additional cheese (rather than sweet desert (which I always leave) at the same time as serving coffee, just after the main meal has been served.

It is not as though there is an efficiency issue here because the crew do not have the time on a long haul flight .

It would give them more opportunities for “moments of truth” to attempt to engage with their customers – their passengers who effectively pay their wages.

At a time when I have enjoyed flying long haul with Emirates and even Turkish airlines, I have been pleasantly surprised by the improvement in BA crew standards, since I last flew long haul with BA many years ago and I would love to see IAG take this several steps further.

I hope you will refund me my money but hopefully surprise me by asking one of your customer service team to engage with me to discuss ways of improving the “experience” offered by your airlines

Yours sincerely

M.J. Ogilvie

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