British Airways: The Beginning of the End..?

Standards appear under assault as the once proud British Airways seems to be focusing on the pennies…

Article by Donald B. McFarlane Photography by Francois Van

I have been a supporter of British Airways since I was old enough to book my own tickets, and I was especially proud of the airline because like myself, it is British. Now, as we enter the dawn of 2017, I fear that my love affair with this airline is coming to a painful end. In the last 30 days, I flew with BA to Warsaw, Atlanta (return via Miami) and Valencia. These trips were illuminating, and cast doubt in my mind as to the future of my relationship with this once iconic brand.

Where to start? It doesn’t help that the man at the helm of BA, Alex Cruz, has a background with Clickair and Vueling airlines. Both low cost carriers. It seems that Mr Cruz, a Spaniard, plans to take BA in the direction as those airlines: cut-rate budget. Measures are already in place to charge passengers for baggage, and on the 11th of January passengers flying Euro Traveller (Coach) will be required to purchase Marks and Spencer’s meals on board flights. This tactic reeks of cheap, thrifty service, and will undoubtedly slow the time it takes to service the cabin.

On my recent flight back from Valencia I was presented a sandwich for lunch, and then asked to put all my rubbish into a tiny plastic bag supplied with the meal. While I understand that this may be convenient for flight crew it is another sign that BA is heading in the wrong direction. You can always tell what kind of restaurant you’re in when you have to bus your own tray, and it’s usually a fast-food joint. I hope that is not what BA is aspiring towards.

To quote a flight attendant on a recent flight: “BA is in between Delta and Singapore and it can’t be both. The problem is that it’s moving towards Delta, and that isn’t good.” The same attendant even expressed fears that the airline is moving to inevitable parity with Ryan Air. Shocking. It’s quite clear that Mr Cruz wants more butts in seats, regardless of the cost to the brand.

Skytrax, the international airlines rating agency, currently ranks British Airways with 4 out of 5 stars. Its customer reviews are not so sparkling.

Food & Beverage- 3/5

Inflight Entertainment- 3/5

Seat Comfort- 3/5

Staff Service- 3/5

Value for Money- 3/5

I see a dangerous trend. Going down.

There are clear indications while on-board the flights that service is getting lower, and we should all be concerned where this will end. When you have passengers asking for blankets and they are told that they are not available any longer, and people on trans-Atlantic flights asking for a pack of peanuts and being offered the opportunity to purchase a bag of M&Ms while they kept serving me an endless supply of cold beers gratis, there are serious issues at hand. Don’t even get me started on the M&S meals that passengers will be forced to pay for starting this month. Deplorable.

Then there’s the baggage debacle. Taking a page from Easy Jet or some crappy American airline, it seems that fees are now being applied to checked baggage. Thus, passengers are trying to drag a silly number and size of bag onto the aircraft. Boarding has become a mad dash for over-head storage space, and those that board first are forced to watch their possessions get squashed by their fellow air traveller as they try and shove their cheap luggage into the over-head bins.

One area that I believe has yet to suffer from the free-fall drop in standards are the crew. The men and women that make up the cabin crew are still lovely and engaging. BUT! There is trouble in the rear of the plane. There are three types of crew on BA. I’ve asked the crews on all three of my recent flights about this and it’s hard to nail down exactly how the system works, but it seems that some crews are on better rates and contracts, and some of these crews recently threatened strike action over Christmas and Boxing Day.

If things continue to deteriorate on their current trajectory, there is a good chance that Mr Cruz will continue to pinch £, and as a result, the cabin crews will suffer even more, and then they’ll leave. Simple as that.

Then there are problems behind the scenes. The BA app works well sometimes, and other times it doesn’t. Change seat during on-line check-in, maybe. Ring to inquire, maybe that fixes things. Print boarding passes at home? Maybe. A total lack of consistency seems to have infected the pre-flight processes. It also seems that the only way to get a response from BA is to send them an angry tweet. Truly we’re in the 21st century. Where does it all end? I don’t know. Things look grim. Services are being eroded and I was told by another flight attendant that some aircraft are having a lavatory removed to make room for more seats. Not good.

My mother tells me about flying in the 1960s when all ladies wore stockings and gentlemen wore suits. Now flying has turned into some version of the National Express at 34,000 feet. The passengers dress like they’re going to the gym and have little regard for their fellow traveller all the while British Airways tries to tighten the purse-strings and find ways to offer a lower service at the same price – but with less bells and whistles attached. It’s clear that tourists of the future will be faced with two very distinct choices: fly an airline run out of the Middle East or Asia, or deal with the decline and fall of ‘Western’ airlines. Years ago I made up my mind to stop flying US airlines, now it looks like I may be forced to abandon British Airways. It’s a sad day for a once great airline which was run by the government of the United Kingdom until 1987. Perhaps it’s time for our nation to reclaim this brand and restore it to its former glory. Oh, and we might as well include the railways at the same time.

It’s 2017, but are we moving forward towards a brighter future? Not with British Airways, tragically. riddle_stop 2

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