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I haven’t exactly been the biggest fan of British Airways since I started this blog and I’m usually one of the first to point out the airline’s failings and shortcomings but, despite the fact that not much has really changed in how BA operates, I’m slowly starting to actively choose to fly with BA more than in the past.
Allow me to make one thing clear before I go any further – my opinion of British Airways as a corporation and as an airline hasn’t really changed.
I still dislike its management team, I abhor the ludicrous surcharges the airline adds to awards, I think its short-haul Business Class cabins are a joke, I think its long-haul Business Class cabins are poor, I think its long-haul First Class cabin is mediocre (as far as First Class cabins go), I can’t believe how long the airline plans to take to roll out its new Business Class product, I think the fact that so many of BA’s long-haul aircraft still don’t offer power at every seat is appalling and the continuing lack of wi-fi on most international flights is an embarrassment…and yet I’m still finding myself booking with BA more than before.
On the face of things this is just weird…but there’s actually a very good reason behind my recent trend.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been flying on a number of routes on which British Airways is the only non-stop option so, to a degree, I’ve been ‘forced’ to fly with BA quite a bit.
Had other airlines offered a similar schedule and routing there’s every chance that I would have booked away from BA but, as that hasn’t been the case, I’ve been experiencing travel with British Airways a lot more than I have done in the past.
I’ve continued to experience all the usual annoyances that travel with BA can throw up (like being stripped of exit row seat assignments, having flights run out of food, having to deal with clueless staff at outstations and finding that washrooms or seats don’t work onboard) but one positive thing has outshone all the bad things – the crews.
I’ve had some of the nicest, friendliest crews on most of my British Airways flights over the past couple of years and, importantly, I’ve been traveling almost exclusively in Economy Class.
My experiences aren’t with crews in premium cabins.
These are crews who are mostly underpaid and under resourced but, based on my experiences, they are crews who are fantastic at dealing with passengers and great at maintaining a happy and friendly demeanour even when things they have no control over go wrong.
That’s a very useful skill to have.
I’m sure I’ll get a number of comments to this post telling me about the horrible experiences people have had with various BA crews and, while I don’t for a moment doubt that these experiences have happened, I’m inclined to believe that they’re outliers (or that there’s more to the story).
I’ve flown too many flights with BA for my experiences to be abnormal or unrepresentative.
The end result of my positive experiences with British Airways crews is that I’m now a lot more inclined to book with BA than I was in the past, and a recent decision to book British Airways Economy Class for a trip across the Atlantic was taken almost entirely because of my recent experiences.
American and United were both offering slightly lower fares than British Airways (so was Delta but it’s routing required a layover) but, because neither of them offers an Economy Class hard product that’s noticeably better than BA’s, it was the expectation that the BA crew would be best which swayed my final decision.
Had I been considering a Business Class booking my decision making process would have been different – I would have chosen American Airlines’ great 777-300ER Business Class seat over BA’s poor Club World seat because I value hard product over soft….but when there’s no real difference in hard product the attitude and demeanour of the crew is a big factor in my decision making.
This is an area where I think American Airlines and United face a serious issue.
Both airlines offer some truly terrible cabins (mostly in Economy Class) and both also have employees with incredibly poor reputations when it comes to customer service. (Note: I’m not saying that all of the employees are a problem, far from it, but there is a significant percentage who are terrible).
Delta’s Economy Class cabins can be just bad as those of their competitors (sometimes they’re actually worse) but because Delta is a better run airline and because Delta’s employees are not generally perceived to be hostile, miserable or prone to rudeness, it’s an airline flyers usually view with a lot more positivity.
Rightly or wrongly a positive, friendly, and smiling set of gate agents and crew can cover up a whole series of failings elsewhere in an airline’s offering and my decision to give British Airways more of my business is proof of that.
American and United keep wondering how they can win more business without having to roll back the negative (yet cash generating) moves they’ve been making over the past decade and the answer is staring them straight in the face – do something about the staff.
Yes, I know there are union issues, I know both airlines have been making noises about improving staff-passenger relations for some time and I know that American Airlines has even tried throwing money at the problem (in a rather foolish manner), but I can’t escape the feeling that neither airline really appreciates just how key to their financial success their staff can be.
I genuinely don’t believe that number crunchers like Scott Kirby and CEO’s as out of their depth as Doug Parker appreciate how much more effort they need to put in to the serious issues they have surrounding some of their staff.
If American Airlines and United consistently fielded crews that passengers enjoyed interacting with they’d be different airlines….and you just have to take a look at Delta to see proof of this.
Over the past two or three years there has been an incredible amount of focus on the devaluations within the American Airlines AAdvantage loyalty program and the changes have generated a lot of ill will towards the airline.
United has also had its fair share of passenger discontent and the recently announced move to dynamic award pricing has seen its flyers in uproar……but now take a look at Delta.
American and United have only been doing what Delta has been doing for years and yet Delta almost gets a free pass – passengers still flock to Delta and passengers still like Delta.
Sure, it’s not all about pleasant staff (Delta’s punctuality and schedule are big positives for the airline too) but Delta’s employees play a significant role in how the public views it and that’s a money maker for the airline.
A lot of people will choose Delta over American or United because the gate and onboard experience is perceived to be significantly better…and it is.
One of the first things I noticed when I flew in Business Class with Delta a few years ago was how much more amenable and friendly the cabin crew were compared to the crews I was used to on American Airlines – it was something that really stood out and something that has stuck in my memory ever since.
The nature of an airline’s staff is hugely important and it can be a significant weapon in the battle all airlines fight for the money in our pockets…..but some airlines just don’t seem to get it.
British Airways is lucky because, despite the best efforts of management to undermine them on multiple levels, their crews do a very good job of putting on a smile and being pleasant to the passengers they’re serving.
American and United are not so lucky and, until they take the issues they have with their staff more seriously and, if necessary, take drastic action, they’re going to have to continue scraping the barrel in a bid to compete with airlines like Spirit and Frontier because they certainly won’t be able to compete with likes of Delta…..and that’s really where American and United want to be.