Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Angry and frustrated !

People ask me why I blog and how I choose my subjects. It's a simple answer. I write for enjoyment and choose subjects that either interest me or move me in some way. Today is a perfect example. I have been moved, but negatively. I am angry and frustrated !

An early morning start today for a 9am flight to Moscow (flight BA872) saw me struggle out of bed before I was ready (admittedly i take some responsibility for the late night before, the nice wine and rich food), but this was necessary for the short trip which was to start with meetings straight off the plane in the afternoon.

On this flight sector, I always opt for GBP300-400 economy ticket versus the GBP1200 "business class", which offers little more than a printed tissue on the seat informing you of the premium status you hold. However, when I checked in online, there was a special offer of GBP200 for a one way upgrade. Although I thought this was a reasonable offer (valid only at that moment), I figured that I will get to the airport with no time to spare before the flight and will get no use of the lounge, and I don't really value the head tissue alone for that much money.

As predicted, I stumbled into Terminal 5 at the last moment and cleared security and had to run to the gate with not even enough time for my ritualised Starbucks! Right on time! The lady at the gate picked up the mic to make her announcement, but to my rude awakening, it was to announce a 2 hour delay for the flight .....because BA didn't have a plane! At Heathrow, in their home town and dedicated terminal, British Airways didn't have a plane!

The lady gracefully dismissed us with a very generous GBP5 voucher for food and drink, which was quickly donated to Starbucks as I then went on the hunt for a lounge a could use. I have an Amex Centurian card, a Priority Pass Card, a Skywards gold card, a Star Alliance top tier card, a Skyteam top tier card and a Cathay Pacific silver card, yet there was nothing accessible to me at Terminal 5. The CX card isn't a high enough level, and BA have you captive in their terminal and gives no other lounge option (for payment or otherwise).

In any case, I spent the time making calls and shopping (my Tumi luggage collection grew again), when I heard of another 2 hour delay! This was now a major inconvenience. An afternoon meeting and dinner appointment needed to be cancelled, and I was in need of a power socket and wifi (I wasnt able to connect to the generic Terminal 5 wifi). I went to the BA customer service counter and asked about the ability to take up their offer of an upgrade. I was told the price was now GBP1000, and so asked to see the Duty Manager. Remaining calm and reasonable, I asked what possibility he may have of allowing me an upgrade at yesterdays offer price, or any other "sensible" price. I explained that I was aware that it was a limited time offer, but that it was also based on the fact that the flight was supposed to fly at 9am. While I was told that this special price upgrade could not be made available, I was shocked at his arrogance, his unbelievable attitude clearly indicating that he couldn't care less about customers inconvenience made me exceptionally angry. I knew I was not entitled to use the lounge, but what about showing some courtesy or understanding to hugely inconvenienced passengers? Had I been politely informed of his inability to help on this area, I would have been satisfied (I had to try and get a benefit, but would have accepted if I was politely declined). Instead, his manner was smug and totally unsympathetic. An attitude "these things happen" is totally unacceptable for an airline like British Airways. To my mind, they have a responsibility of duty to take passengers to locations ON TIME and understand that plans and commitments around this, and there are real costs for delayed passengers. For them not to care, is simply unacceptable. Beyond the token GBP5 gesture they gave at the beginning, there was no consideration from BA as the money that had to be spent on phone calls and not to mention what the time cost was for me missing 2 meetings!

If that is the courtesy and attitude that customer facing staff at BA show, then they don't deserve the pay increase they are asking for, and if BA corporate can train their customer facing staff correctly, or indeed empower them with a little authority to deal with situations (as opposed to arming them with a "there's nothing I can do about it" tool), they may not be in the slump they are in now.

I am on a plane once or twice a week. I fly all classes and on airlines ranging from the so called "best" (Emirates, Singapore, Cathay etc..) to discount airlines and fledgling airlines from the developing world (including, BMI, Easyjet, Air Berlin and Arik Air in Nigeria, Huangzhou Air in China and S7 in Russia), and I can honestly say that BA has the worst attitude to customer care of them all. The smaller airlines may not have the resources of the larger ones and accordingly may lack in training budgets, but there is a genuine caring attitude towards customers, and a willingness to help and sympathize in difficult situations (including a 3 hour on board delay aboard an internal Chinese flight I had 2 weeks ago). I suppose it is perhaps not even as deep as training, but perhaps as simple as being caring towards another person. BA ha shown it's ability to find people to work on their airline who lack this common courtesy, and can't but help to vent my anger and frustration on this.

BA remains firmly as my last choice of airline to travel on any route, taken only as a last choice when i have no other option, and I can easily see the writing on the wall for the future survival if they don't change and understand they are not representing the British Empire, but a faltering company that needs to wake up and reinvent itself .... fast.

I am writing this now aboard the flight, which finally took off 4.5 hours late. The only saving grace, and a caveat to the above, is an excellent stewardess named Tracy who has been exemplary in her behaviour and service to me and my fellow passengers. If only she was the rule and not the exception!


  1. Dear Sunil we are waiting for a BA flight in the us and feel the same way
    Vinod hirdaramani
    Tottenham fan

  2. Christ. I flew BA to NY this time (had miles on my Centurion card) and I realized I must never ever complain about Emirates again. The seats were terrible and in their DXB-LHR sector, their idea of inflight entertainment was to plug in a portable DVD for me to use! Old planes, bad service and not very nice food ensured this was an airline I wasn't about to travel on again anytime soon. After I get back to Dubai in two weeks that is :(

  3. thanks for the comments - so this post certainly touched a nerve in a number of people !
    (Vinod - did you have to write your allegiance in your sign off ! ;-) )