Why I’m Starting To Choose British Airways More (And Why American & United Should Take Note)


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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.

British Airways Airbus A319

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.

American Airlines 777-300ER Business Class
American Airlines 777-300ER Business Class

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.

Bottom Line

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.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I agree 1000%. BA flight crews have been fantastic. I fly several BA routes that I could fly American or other carriers. I have stuck with BA because the crew matter to me and I have found them to be caring, courteous and professional. I willingly take a subpar seat or food experience for great people any day.

  2. As you said you can’t believe how slow the roll out of the new club suite will be but although it will be some time until it’s completely finished it is a much more ambitious and faster schedule than that of United with Polaris and the Delta One Suite. With both of these we don’t know when they’ll start retrofitting some aircraft and much of the fleet still needs work

    While I’m at it Qatar airways QSuite seems to get a free pass. Despite entering into service in 2017 the vast majority of the fleet is still waiting for it to happen. When people are celebrating the QSuite starting on another route then that is a woefully slow rollout.

    So before you slaughter BA take a moment and you’ll see how in terms of how complex the seat is and the large number of aircraft that need the seat and you’ll realise that BA is rolling it out very quickly

  3. I could not agree more with you . I always choose BA by choice . The crews more than make up for the short comings in other departments like cabins and food offerings . What I find most ommendsble is that the crews attitude is exactly the same whatever flight and whatever cabin I fly in . In fact whenever I board I feel genuinely welcome . One more point with BA is that I find it do easy to earn and more importantly spend my reward points which I find quit difficult with other carriers.

  4. BA’s flight crews for the last 27 years were the only reason I chose to fly BA for as long as I did, but in the last 6 years I have been flying more to the Middle & Far East more and more, for convenience mainly, I only fly BA now, I have had over 500,000 BA airmiles at one time been a sliver holder more than blue, or if the national airline, has a much poorer history than BA.

    When you have a complaint I find BA customer services, very lax and have an attitude, and shoulders like wine bottles.

    I tell travel what are the options where as before I always said BA.

    The meals now are also leave a lot to be desired.

  5. Flight to Hong Kong few years back , no entertainment system working , ripped carpets food a complete joke and crew not to be seen for most of a long journey . Never travel with them again.

  6. My experience with BA last week was terrible. It was my first time to use it and I regretted. I got sick while in USA and I needed to see the doctor. I had to change my flight to the next day and they ask for doctors letter which I presented. The customer care said that the letter was fake and demanded a stamp from the hospital which they never do.The letter is only signed by the Doctor which she did.After many phone calls they said ,they will not issue me with the ticket. I went back to the hospital which was miles away, they really felt for me since I was still on medication. They requested to send an email from the hospital directly to BA and attach the letter since they never stamp the letters but generate every information from the computer. They also made several phone calls trying to explain to the BA customer care.finally the accepted the letter that they told me it was fake.I was very frustrated and demoralized.. Terrible experience it was

  7. I agree too. I gave up flying United and American airlines over 15 years ago largely because of the attitude of the crew. Will be flying AA this summer one way (as times worked best) and BA the other so will have the opportunity to compare them again. Virgin Atlantic has friendly & polite crew too and although I’ve only flown Delta twice, they have to date, been the only US airline crew I think can match European airline crew for great attitudes. I have only limited experience with Asian & Middle Eastern airlines.

  8. BA consistently fill their cabins including premium despite Business Class having quite a high density of seats. They must be doing something right.

  9. Staff cannot compensate for a mediocre business class cabin where you have to step over adjoining seats and cramming in more seats than AA Seats didn’t recline on my last flight .Dated media system with cheap headphones dirty toilets and fares which are more expensive than AA. Ba customer services now based in S Afica and staff have no idea how to help.. AA land based in London and answered with 8 rings. BA stop cutting corners in order to provide shareholder value, you will lose out as the customer has choice.

  10. I worked in Corporate Travel for over 25 years and BAs biggest challenge was getting consistency of service. Many crews were amazing, but if you got a bad one you knew it!

    As for US carriers , especially the likes of American , United and Delta the experience was very reliable…. the “typical” american idea of customer service. A fake smile and telling you to have a nice day. I prefer to interact with genuine people who try their best rather than corporates clones

  11. I agree 100% on BA. I’ve been on some old less than desirable planes but the crew has almost always been fantastic and attentive. They have offered better seating and more to make me comfortable on long haul flights. Importantly this is often volunteered by them rather than requested by me.

    I do have to defend AA and UA a little. On AA flights I have encountered great crews about 85% of the time. They voluntarily responded to a tweet of mine and rebooked my flight when conditions were obviously going to cause a major delay and missed connection. It was not a negative tweet on my part, just a general disappointment that I would likely be stuck in a connecting city. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

    UA, its at best 50%. I can see a clear difference between crews that came from United and ones that came from Continental. The former Continental crews are great. Maybe its that I share a last name with a former CEO that was well liked that rings some bells and draws a positive attitude. I doubt it though. No relation to Gordon, that I know of, but it does strike up some rather interesting conversations with those who came to United via Continental. They have lots of great stories about things he did for the staff and how they were inspired to provide better service while he was in charge. The whole of UA should spend some time with former Continental crews, learn from them, and spread what they learn to the rest of the company.

  12. Anything, even walking (or swimming, as the need be) has got to be better than Amercian. I went from EXP to zero when they started devaluing their programs and haven’t looked back. They took one bad airline and one sliding airline and made the world’s worst airline out of it. And still blaming consolidation five years after the fact. Really? My guess is that 50 percent of AA staff are wonderful but 50 percent are terrible. If you got the good one they were good. If you got the bad one you just had to live with it. Don’t have those problems anymore.

  13. Hard to disagree, I will say that on some American Eagle flights recently their crews have been terrific. They are younger and seem very happy in their job. The atmosphere in a plane is 1000% better from everybody, when there is a smile and a genuine belief that they enjoy their career.
    While I’m a million miler with both Delta and American, when I first made the switch in 2011 to American it was because of routes and more direct flights. Those first years I would say American and their Frequent Flyer program was much better by miles. I still to this day can’t believe that Delta never even emailed me (Diamond for 5 years) and asked why my travel was down. Back in those days Delta was dealing with all the old Northwest planes (Kept Breaking down) and two flight attendant crews who it appeared hated each other. I think American is still dealing with the US Airlines merger and those same issues, but the difference seems to be Delta’s CEO took them head on and by all accounts has improved things a lot quicker than American has. Now that I have moved to Dallas with my Career, I’m pretty much stuck with AA, but I have been looking again to Delta if the route and price are correct. I’m only writing this as hopefully someone at AA takes notice and starts to consider their Freq Flyers and our Loyalty better, and work to improve the customer service that has deteriorated since the merger.

  14. There is one more factor you fail to note. I have substantial points on American and Delta. I live in Atlanta so I would prefer to fly Delta, but the last few times I wanted to make award travel I found that American offered me travel for 40-50% less miles than Delta. I have been using up my American miles and have a pot of Delta miles, but I hate to spend 50,000 more miles for the same trip, so I end up back with American time and again. It makes me hesitate to fly Delta when I am a paying customer since I know the miles earned will be worth so much less when it comes time to cash them in.

  15. 100% spot-on! I have flown BA economy, eco premium and business multiple times over the years. I was AA Plat Exec for 8 years in a row and during that time would fly BA several times a year. I flew BA this past March from London to Paris. In _every single case_ I have been so impressed with the BA crews all around. I have flown BA from London to multiple destinations in Africa. Many times the flights were packed, the passengers were not frequent fliers and the cabin was full of people from many different countries. To a fault the BA cabin crew were friendly, helpful, empathetic and go out of their way to make the flight as positive as possible in fairly cramped conditions.

    On our flight from London to Paris both my wife and daughter (not frequent fliers) commented on how very nice the cabin crew and the attendants were.

    As a segue-way, I recently flew Allegiant Airlines (Eugene to Phoenix). Everything before getting on the plane is painful with Allegiant. The outbound plane was an hour late… and… I’d fly them again. In both cases their cabin crew was delightful and seemed to be enjoying themselves. They kept passengers laughing and fully acknowledged that they are a budget airline. The attitude makes all the difference in the world.

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