This week Latest Sale reports from the Hospitality, Travel and Leisure sector with a particular focus on the practices of airlines such as British Airways, We explore why so many travellers book British Airways flights via travel agents whether they be business or leisure travellers. Of course, the team only speaks from the experience of our opinion formers and regular users of airlines and we give comparative outlines of the sector and how it has developed (perhaps to its detriment) over the past ten years.
Why Booking European flights direct with British Airways via ba.com is fraught with difficulties
Certain destinations do not have the best range of flight times (especially late evening flights) from a convenient departing airport, which is one of the primary reasons why booking a number of European flights direct with British Airways may seem at first light to be preferable. The ba.com website is the first port of call for booking direct however, compared to online travel agents, it may appear to be somewhat cumbersome.
Firstly if you have booked previously with British Airways, you may have to search hard for past bookings on ba.com. Even future bookings are not necessarily displayed until nearer your flight departure time or other flights have been taken and are no longer active in the ‘My Bookings’ section. This negative user experience of the ba.com website is still correct and is updated as of 6th September 2018.
For this reason, one of the most frustrating aspects of the ba.com website is the need to input your booking reference to find your flight more easily. Of course your booking reference is typically only found on your email at the time you booked your flight. This therefore seems to be a cumbersome additional process that inconveniences business travellers pressed for time who simply want to log in and quickly have a snapshot of their past and future itineraries with ease under the ‘My Bookings’ section.
Is British Airways still the world’s favourite Airline?
Since 1989, British Airways has used in its advertising campaigns the captivating classical musical duet and masterpiece ‘The Flower Duet’ (‘Sous le dôme épais’), that depicts the lightness and beauty of the Orient and the exotic flowers found in the region. Sung by the protagonists Lakme and Mallika in the first act of the 14th April 1883 opera, Lakme composed by Leo Delibes’ first premiered in Paris’ Opera Comique Théâtre. The operatic theme of ‘The Flower Duet’ is sung by two principal soprano characters, Lakme and Mallika.
Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin
À la rose s’assemble
Sur la rive en fleurs,
Riant au matin
Viens, descendons ensemble.
Under the thick dome where white jasmine lies
With the roses entwined together
On the river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning
Let us descend together
Such tantalising music that communicates how flowers enlighten the soul and generate positive wellbeing, must fit the experience of travellers and over time the Latest Sale team wonders whether this relaxing, treasure filled music still resonates with the current satisfaction levels some customers may experience on British Airways flights, almost 30 years after first using ‘The Flower Duet’ musical score in British Airways advertising.
The Latest Sale team and most other business users will judge an airline’s performance not by what happens when you purchase a ticket for a flight but rather what happens when things go wrong.
When things go wrong with British Airways, to hear The Flower Duet music playing continuously in the background seems inappropriate and out of synch for an airline whose Customer Relations team is inaccessible and completely in denial that there are even any problems at all. Any complaint made online is ignored and those responded to are simply met with repetitive denials and agents reading from a script where they deny all knowledge of any problems and insist that British Airways is a wonderful airline! It is not unheard of to spend two hours on hold waiting to speak with a Customer Relations agent and to not even get through to anyone at all. Complaints handing and any such queries are simply not addressed adequately with the current British Airways set up.
What about flight punctuality? British Airways versus Ryanair
Now one thing that is positive about British Airways is its commitment to ensure flight departure times are adhered to. Lately testing amongst various airlines in 2018 has recorded particularly poor results in this area. Ryanair currently operating at 40% in terms of punctuality with the worst thing being the lack of apology from ground staff who simply ignore any customer who complains! This Ryanair score is an average based on flights booked for the years March 2016- March 2018 inclusive and before any industrial action that may have caused some flight cancellations.
Ground staff at Ryanair will also claim that they “cannot understand the delay…delays never usually occur,” and of course those of us who fly on business on a monthly basis know this not to be true! Ryanair fights are always delayed. Granted, Ryanair is a budget airline but should business travellers risk catching Ryanair if they are in a hurry for meetings or have connecting flights, or transportation pre- booked? The Latest Sale team now expects the frustrating two-hour Ryanair departure delay and typical blasé attitude of the ground staff when you dart them looks of despair. One European Stansted flight leaving from Stansted in the Spring of 2018 left on time. It was a shocking experience to arrive at our destination ahead of schedule via Ryanair.
Let it be known that before Monarch Airlines went into liquidation, Monarch Airlines operated at 95% efficiency in terms of on-time scheduled flights and our findings do not indicate any Monarch Airlines flights ever being delayed for more than 30 minutes during the same period of 2016 to 2018.
British Airways flights during a period of six months from March 2018 to August 2018 indicated flight delays although not always substantial and therefore the score for flight punctuality levels with British Airways is lower than that enjoyed by Monarch Airlines, with an average score of 65%. Ground staff at British Airways is simply not in the mood for hearing any complaints at all. As per the Customer Relations call centre team, they are in complete denial if ever you raise a query with them. The big problem with British Airways is the widening disparity between all supporting staff and the British Airways cabin crew whose manners and conduct is impeccable.
Monarch Airlines- why we are sad to see this airline go
The closure of Monarch Airlines in 2017, flight times and flight delays of Ryanair will lead many to block book with British Airways. Surely business travellers cannot go wrong with British Airways, the world’s favourite airline? What can we say? All brands MUST keep up with trends and the changes to their brand. Is this strapline still appropriate today when the service at British Airways for European flights especially is lacking? We hate to say something shocking, but Ryanair overall offers its customers a far better service than British Airways despite all the projected flight departure time delays! Why you may ask? Well if you ever have problems with Ryanair, from an excess luggage issues to flight re-booking, call the Ryanair team and yes they will answer the phone. The Ryanair contact centre team clearly understands the need to address all passenger issues when they are raised. They may argue a little initially but then in the end they will simply accept responsibility and resolve the problems you may have on the spot. Passengers can also call back to re-confirm all details of their requirements just before the flight departure date and there will be no back tracking, no denials and certainly no arrogance that seems typical of staff at British Airways.
British Airways and the OneWorld Alliance
Latest Sale turns its attention back to British Airways in this blog. For some passengers, you book online direct with BA at your peril. British Airways as frequent travellers will be no doubt be aware operates a One World Alliance programme with multiple airlines whereby the airline shares some costs with other airlines. When calling the British Airways Customer Services team they will assure you that “Operated by Airline X” as specified on their website is nothing to worry about. We were told that those words simply referred to the fact that BA worked with other airlines however cabin crew and aircraft would be British Airways. However upon arriving at the departure gate, passengers will see another airline other than BA.
What to look out for when booking British Airways flights on ba.com
Throughout the sales process customers remain on the ba.com website. All booking confirmation generated will indicate a British Airways flight number. BA claims that this practice is totally legitimate and approved by Trading Standards, parent company AIG and the CAA, even though other online travel agents only display the logo of the actual carrier and are expected to display the correct flight number of the carrier to avoid confusion. British Airways however choose to display a BA Flight number even though the carrier is really nothing to do with BA, but rather a separate third party company.
British Airways also claims this practice of using a BA flight number for a carrier that is not even BA is authorized under a code sharing agreement between two airlines. We noted that this shared code specifies a BA flight number that does not in effect exist at all at the point of generating a boarding pass as the aircraft is certainly not BA and the boarding pass will not display any reference to the BA flight number generated at the time of booking.
Only 24 hours before travelling (correct as of Spring of 2018) and downloading the boarding pass did BA declare that in fact BA would not be the carrier. Customers were then suddenly redirected to an external website to obtain the boarding pass. *Recently BA has changed the booking system (updated in August 2018) after making substantial complaints to them and we have noticed that when the flight appears in Recent Bookings on the ba.com website, the dashboard now indicates the additional flight number for the actual carrier that is not BA. It also displays a small logo of the actual carrier.
Passengers can change flights free of charge if booking online on ba.com and any changes may be made within 24 hours. Therefore Latest Sale strongly advises all travellers check the precise details of their booking if they are making reservations directly on ba.com. If necessary call the customer services team (hopefully they will answer the phone) and just check the details of the flight again, especially check whether the aircraft you expect to be boarding is indeed the correct aircraft. Failing this, just book with Expedia or a travel agent, everything seems crystal clear via these methods.
Why does the British Airways Customer Relations team never answer the phone?
British Airways it seems books on behalf of other airlines in the same way as Expedia, lastminute.com and others but unfortunately, it does so poorly due to misleading navigation settings on the ba.com website and the lack of good, accessible after sales support. Equally a Customer Relations team who simply do not pick up the phone gives passengers the impression that this department does not even exist. The BA Customer Relations number (correct as of August 2018) is 0344 493 0787. Calls on this line for complaints or specific enquiries regarding compensation claims are only accepted Monday to Friday 13h00-17h00 GMT.
Passengers calling the BA Customers Relations team will receive a large mobile phone bill and not much else as this contact centre is virtually impossible to access. Customers will literally be left on hold for one hour, two hours even, and no-one deals with your query. It does not matter which day you call nor at what time, operators just do not respond. After calling the Customer Relations number for over three weeks and spending three months in emails to the self denying complaints team we simply gave up when we had an outstanding issue to resolve.
The BA Customer Services team however are always on hand to take more money from customers of course, and the BA Customer Services Team number appears to direct passengers straight to an adviser, but dealing with compensation claims or complaints? No way. An online complaints form is also pointless bearing in mind that responses received do not resolve anything at all and are full of British Airways staff arrogance, consistent denials and robotic responses to everything you say, with continuous script-like responses such as, “We cannot understand the complaint. British Airways is an airline that always looks after its customers.”
What is wrong with the British Airways OneWorld Alliance Programme?
May we point out the following?
- Supermarkets Asda and Sainsbury’s desire to merge and share operational expenses. However customers from Asda must know that is where they are going to shop with clear signage and branding throughout each distinctive store before customers enter.
- Supermarkets Tesco and Carrefour hope to share some operational expenses, but a Tesco store is just that. There is no co-branding nor purchases online delivered to your doorstep in Carrefour packaging and Carrefour labelling.
- At point of purchase on ba.com, why not direct customers to the external website, the actual carrier the passenger is booking from in the OneWorld Alliance programme? The reason why? Because British Airways knows it will loose sales.
- Throughout the sales process and for all emails received, the BA flight number is given as a point of reference on the booking, giving the impression that indeed the customer will be flying with BA. The third party airline is not prominently mentioned, neither is the third party flight number included which is the only determining factor as to which airline the customer will be flying with.
- It is only 24 hours before the flight, when downloading the boarding pass that customers are taken to an external website (the third party carrier- correct as of Spring 2018) and then told for the first time that in fact BA is not the air carrier. Equally, suddenly a new flight number appears! A third party flight number for the first time appearing AFTER the sale has taken place and ONLY giving to customers 24 hours before the flight to make any changes. The reservation number following the transaction on the ba.com website simply does not display the correct third party company flight number and has not up until April 2018. As previously mentioned, this changed in August 2018 however we would say that the code sharing BA flight number should not appear at all on any sales transaction whereby the aircraft and cabin crew are not BA.
- At the airport, British Airways continues to show both a BA flight number as well as the third party flight number. Clearly any hidden costs that are shared between carriers may be recognized however it is simply folie for the principles of code sharing for BA to continue to display their flight number, logo and branding on flights whereby the aircraft and cabin crew are definitively not BA.
- Any complaints or concerns raised by customers to BA are simply met with what feels like a recorded message. Staff will repeat over and over, how wonderful BA is, how they offer customers the best service and that they are the best airline. You remind them you are calling to complain and resolve an issue and they simply repeat once again that they have done nothing wrong because BA is just well, simply a wonderful airline! You the customer are wrong and BA the best airline in the world is apparently right.
- Flight reminders and check in reminders via email are non- existent…. This is the new British Airways lack of service offering. Even Ryanair, a budget airline keeps in touch!
- Adding bags to flights is a headache when operating via code sharing and third party carriers, but at least the facility is there but only when generating the boarding pass 24 hours before the flight, a very tight timeline for booking this service that in our opinion is totally inconvenient.
Why Latest Sale chooses carefully which airlines to book direct with
Airlines will always claim that booking with them direct offers customers the best options, is more convenient and builds loyalty. Not so in our experience For budget airlines such as Ryanair the standard of service is equal between the airline and third party travel agencies and online travel companies such as Expedia, and the user experience of their website is second to none as there is zero misleading sales tactics from Ryanair. Yes we know you pay extra to choose your favourite seat but these add-ons are made so clear at the time of booking it is unlikely customers will get confused or be misled. For British Airways, the airline dares to use the 1980’s world favourite airline slogan and operatic musical theme ‘The Flower Duet’ in 2018 to promote their brand when the level of service has declined to such a low level over the past 30 years that the essence of using such a warm and inviting soundtrack is just confusing and somewhat embarrassing given the current state of their customer relations department
Why Latest Sale will reserve most British Airways flights with Expedia and not on ba.com
Having booked with Expedia on numerous occasions, we can confirm that few problems have been reported however when problems do arise on that rare occasion, they are dealt with swiftly and Expedia goes the extra mile to retain customers and ensure repeat purchase. Equally with Expedia there is no confusion. Passengers know exactly which airline they are flying with. British Airways seems to have simply lost the will to be the world’s favourite airline with staff whether they be ground staff, call centre staff or Business Lounge staff, displaying nothing less than obnoxious behaviour, robotic responses, rudeness, arrogance, and in fact going the extra mile to do everything they can to say just say no.
Is there anything good about British Airways?
Let’s be clear on this, once you finally do board a British Airways flight (one that has been correctly advertised as such and not a third party carrier instead), the service is fair, however the headache at the time of booking and the rudeness of all other supporting BA staff put a real damper on any positive experience the BA cabin crew may try and invoke. You may therefore look at the BA cabin crew’s smiles and cheery attitude with suspicion as you wonder if they are in fact part of the same company.
So far, we have experienced punctuality levels at 65% on BA operated flights, not bad but still not as good as Monarch Airlines. Oh and Marks and Spencer snacks are available for purchase on board BA flights….that is a nice touch.
Conclusion- Under which criteria did Latest Sale test British Airways customer service level?
N.B. The British Airways experience was tested fully for a period of five months from March 2018 until 21st August 2018 by experienced and regular leisure and business travellers who frequently book flights online and via telephone. Updates to this blog were made substantially throughout August 2018