Why the world’s favourite airline doesn’t like passengers

British Airways has always prided itself on its customer service.

Its website tells you that ‘the British Airways experience is more than a flight. For us, it’s about making every single journey special’.

So, when I booked a flight back from Texas to London for last night, I knew I was in safe hands.

I knew there was no way I’d miss the concert I was going to in Oxford tonight.

Well, I suppose there was always a chance the flight could have been spectacularly delayed. Luckily, that didn’t happen. The plane took off bang on time.

The problem is: I wasn’t on it.

I was standing at the gate, watching it leave, because my seat had been allocated to someone else – even though that seat had been booked for over a month and even though they’d checked me in for the flight four hours earlier.

The BA ground crew frowned at the computer screen and pretended to be ‘trying to understand’ what went wrong. Their suggestions varied from ‘you must have booked late’ to ‘there must be a glitch in the system’.

They didn’t really think any of these things was true, of course. They just wanted to keep me and the other unlucky ones quiet until the plane had left.

If you fly regularly, you already know what really happened. BA ‘oversold’ the flight – they sold tickets to more passengers than there were seats on the plane.

This is a fairly common thing for airlines to do, because their data tells them a small percentage of passengers will usually drop out of a flight at the last moment. So, rather than fly their planes with empty seats (which costs them money), they oversell the flights and gamble that the numbers will balance out.

Sometimes (like Thursday night), the gamble doesn’t pay off and they have to figure out what to do with the spare people.

The first thing they can do is upgrade you (no one minds that, right?) But, when there are no empty seats in first class, that doesn’t work.

So the next thing they do is choose some unlucky people (in this case, me) and just don’t let you on the plane. They tell you they’ve got no idea how ‘the system’ got it wrong, but they’ll put you on another flight that will get you there not much later and they’ll give you some money to compensate you.

Only, in this case, the other flight wasn’t working either. Which is why, instead of watching Lauryn Hill in Blenheim Park with my girlfriend on Friday night, I am typing this in a nasty hotel on the outskirts of Austin.

I realise that sounds a bit self-absorbed (‘poor me’), so let me get to the point.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how many times you tell your employees ‘nothing matters more than our customers’, if your processes teach them to screw those customers over and tell them lies when it suits you.

BA stopped calling itself the world’s favourite airline a few years ago.

My advice? You may as well save yourself a bit more money and cut out all that ‘customer experience’ training for your staff.

Trust me: they know it’s bollocks.

Author: matthampshire

Author and consultant helping organisations communicate in a more authentic and engaging way.

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