Those who fiddle with British Airways have always done so at their peril. Passengers and staff with long memories will recall the handbagging Margaret Thatcher gave the then BA management when it introduced its new corporate identity way back in 1997. Like the ravens in the Tower or the moth-eaten barbary apes on Gibraltar, BA is a ‘don’t even think of going there’ when it comes to change.
But change is, of necessity, afoot as the airline struggles to compete in a wildly over-supplied market for cheap travel. BA’s boss Alex Cruz, schooled at the low cost carrier Vueling, is clearly a no-nonsense type in the Michael O’Leary vein. Now it appears to be one thing after another with BA as the negative news stories come thick and fast. First there was the abolition of free food in economy class on short haul routes. The M&S sandwiches that replaced the floury wraps got the thumbs down not least because those sitting at the back of the plane ended up going hungry when the BLTs ran out at row 19. This has gone so well Cruz is threatening to extend the plebs’ free food ban to long haul.
Secondly, they are cramming even more seats into their aircraft. There are plans to fit an additional two rows of seats onto its A320 and A321 Airbus aircraft which will cut leg room in economy class on some flights from 30 to 29 inches – an inch less than Ryanair.
The injustice went on when a gaggle of schoolchildren were denied free tap water while on a three-hour flight from Naples to London Gatwick. The 60 pupils from Hampshire, many of whom were not carrying food or water, were returning from a geography field trip schlepping round the porn-covered walls of Pompei and had grown very thirsty. They were told they could only pay for water by bank card, as cash payments were outlawed. But many of them only had cash in the form of dozens of 20 cent coins and were told that cabin crew could not supply free tap water from the galley.
If you read down through the comments below the news stories about BA over the last few days they are almost universally hostile - you’d have thought our national flag carrier had taken up child abduction. Everyone has his or her indignant tale of insolent stewardesses or excess baggage charges to offer. The general point that many make is that it is now almost impossible to distinguish the BA service in Goat Class from what’s offered to the great unwashed who make do with Ryanair or Easyjet.
What this shows is that BA is still regarded as a cut above and this will always work to its advantage. BA still has a number of things in its favour. Its London home at Terminal 5 is still a far pleasanter experience than any of the other airports in the capital except possibly London City. Never mind the fact that the airport is so congested it can take you 50 mins from pushback to actually get into the air above Staines. The business lounges could do with a re-fresh but compared with the hell holes that are Gatwick and Stansted, T5 is far superior. And, if you want a real horror show, give Rome’s Fiumicino a try during the summer months.
Second : BA’s frequent flier club. Despite getting meaner and meaner with doling out the Airmiles and making what is offered for them very hard to seek out, many business travellers will bend every corporate travel rule imaginable to get their Avios and their free or discounted flights for their families. And it is business travel where BA makes all its margin.
And, finally, if you think BA treats its customers with insufficient grace read this nightmare story of a United Airlines passenger who was roughed up by security officials after the airline over-booked his flight and he declined to get off. But then again that's nothing compared with not getting your BLT on time.