British Airways Shows How Cuts to Quality Destroy an Airline Brand

Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways parent corporation IAG, describes the airline as catching up to competitors in the race to the bottom. Walsh appointed former low cost carrier Vueling head Alex Cruz to lead that charge at BA. And he tells investors that passengers need to:

BA led the way with basic economy fares (hand baggage only or HBO fares), reduced legroom in their own densification efforts (European business class has the same pitch as American’s new ‘no legroom’ coach product.

British Airways has gotten a lot of heat for eliminating meals in short haul economy, but they’ve eliminated drinks too. They charge for hot water even if you bring your own tea bag. If you want extra strong tea you have to buy a second tea bag. And they’re British.

Via Head for Points we now know the effect that BA’s changes have had on their reputation. YouGov has has released data on changing customer perceptions of British Airways.

No airline measured — not even United, with its massive PR problems over the last year — has fallen in perception of quality and value as much as British Airways.

Looking at value for money, the decline started earliest among those who fly with British Airways. The drop among BA customers’ perception in this area started in autumn 2016, shortly after the introduction of inflight food and drink charges for short-haul flights. But the general public’s view began to change notably in May 2017, at the time of the brand’s much-publicised IT problems.

This drop is across all segments of the British Airways business.

British Airways no longer has a positive net promoter score among its own customers. They obliterated their reputation very quickly. And data shows that customers have become more likely to leave British Airways for a low cost carrier. So rather than making BA more competitive, they’ve given up their competitive edge. There are lessons here for US airlines as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Bottom line is If You want Cheap Fares You are Going to get Reduced Service and Amenities….. no more pillows/blankets/ snacks/meals….. how damn difficult is It to Comprehend? people want the lower fares and a lot of flights to choose from but expect the perks from 1970. all I can say is Get Fn Real! business 101

  2. @Reese – the BA devaluations weren’t because of “customers wanting it” but to make more profit by BA.

  3. ^Reese’s capital/non-capital selections are impressive, just saying.

    The problem is that BA is now domestically/intra-Europe providing about the same service as their ULCC competitors but isn’t providing it at ULCC prices. At that point, the only benefit is for frequent flyers. I know that they reduced service to compete better…but they still can’t compete as well and have managed to demolish the one things, brand quality and reputation, that might have convinced your average flyer to choose them over EasyJet.

  4. Stop whining…Corporations exist to make profit…I never see employees complain that they make too much money…so why do expect this from shareholders?

  5. I fly SFO to LHR several times per year. Would never thing of, infact actively discount, flying BA.

  6. @Reese: BA fares have not come down after the cutbacks took effect. BA is basically the same as Ryanair, only with higher airfares.

  7. They also gutted business class, we fly BA all the time in J, but they really gutted it and when they try to charge the same price as other carriers for J we fly the other carriers.

  8. @gary
    Gary lets wait for a report from IAHPHX who lives inside parker’s ass…
    Apparently the US3 want to achieve the same results and they think that’s a good way to do it

  9. I have no connection to BA, but really like them. I started using them when I needed to fly to Berlin. Once Continental was taken over by United, I refused to fly with them or any other “american” airline. Since even Lufthansa didn’t fly nonstop, and I had to change planes, I chose BA. BTW, I am now in Rome to which I flew in business class for approximately $1700.

  10. I have been a BA Executive Club Silver for a very long time, but I am thinking of decamping.
    They have so devalued the miles by their fuel and service charges and made them so difficult to redeem that I am no longer seeking to collect them on my credit card. One can use 80,000 Avios to get $500 off the cost of a ticket, but that values Avios at about 6.2 cents by my calculations ( although they are happy to sell them to you for 2 cents). On our last flight from London the meals offered in Premium Economy were so off-putting (braised beef and fish pie) that we asked for whatever was being served in Economy.. It turned out to be pasta with pesto–not bad. When we checked in on this side, the check in agent was quite demoralized, having learned that her job was going to be outsourced after more than 20 years; when we mentioned that to the agent on our return, she told a similar story and said that she is actively looking for a new career.

    The lounge on this side was pretty good; the one at Terminal 5 was terribly overcrowded, and what was left of the food at about 3:00 was pretty gloppy. It looked as if they were about to let it run out, anyway, and to start serving tea. What BA should realize is that not all of their travelers are on the same schedule as those in its executive offices.

    We took a morning flight to London and were served a good English breakfast about an hour into the flight. At about 6:30 pm London time, we were served a single biscuit/cookie and tea or coffee. We had a driver booked and had to journey into London (arriving at about 8:30pm) before we could find our second meal of the day.

    One of the perks of being an Executive Club flyer used to be random upgrades. When I asked, the ticket agent said they are now very rare, British Airways seeking instead to sell (monetize) them.

    I cannot complain if BA wants to become Ryanair: it’s their business decision to make. But, no longer feeling that my many years of loyalty to them are reciprocated, I can turn into a price-conscious shopper until I find another airline that seems to want my business. This is especially sad for me as an lifetime Anglophile who used to enjoy the idea that in some sense I had arrived in Britain when I boarded the plane.

  11. I recently flew British Airways from CPT-LGW. The plane was very old. The whole airplane was very dilapidated. The screens on the seats were very tiny. The seats were very poor quality. The food quality was also bad. It was not fun being on that plane for 11.5 hours.

  12. @Ryan – of course customers wanted cheap fares – otherwise ultra low cost airlines would have died long ago. Reality is people don’t mind being treated like cattle if it means saving a few shekels. Walmart wouldnt exist if there weren’t millions of such people…

  13. My lady BA experience fell well below expectation when there was no communication from airline staff of a multi-hour delay and they literally abandoned us 25 or so connecting passengers in an area of Heathrow that had no departure monitors. An unacceptable lack of communication.

  14. Thing is – BA is making a profit. Yes the brand has suffered. But when you have the likes of CX and other “premium” airline brands starting to fail I can’t see BA being too unhappy with things. As @Ken says above, show me evidence that they are losing custom?

  15. We just made reservations to London, Premium Economy. After we had paid and went to select our seats, we learned that BA charges $63+ per leg to get a seat assignment. If we didn’t pay, we’d have to wait until 24 hours before takeoff to select seats. Good luck on getting two together in Premium Economy at that point. To say we were shocked is an understatement.

  16. It stands to reason that a major network airline can’t possibly compete on price with an ULCC. The built-in cost structures are just too different. So it’s foolish to try and do so.

  17. My main takeaway from the last graph is that passengers have short-term memories and care only about the delta between the “now” and the “recent past.”

    All a passenger has to do to ensure better quality in the long run is to pay more for your seat. Let them eat cake I say!

  18. @Reese – getting a complimentary non-alcoholic drink is not a perk from 1970. BA now charges FOR WATER on short haul flights, as well as juice, soft drinks, tea and coffee. I wouldn’t expect any airline, other than a bare bones ULCC to charge for water and juice. We are not asking for filet mignon and on-board massages.

    Lufthansa was just granted a Skytrax 5 star, and BA is in a race to the bottom, justify it however much you want.

  19. I was a loyal BA customer from 2001 – 2015. When they gutted Avios program I lost my ability to get elite status every year and decided only fly BA when it was most convenient and/or cheapest. This year BA ruined a very special trip I took with my 14-year-old daughter. Every airline messes up from time to time but BA was unsympathetic, unapologetic and unwilling to make even small (and not expense) gestures to resolve the problem. Absolutely horrible customer service. Never again will I willingly fly BA.

  20. If British Airways is now a low-cost carrier, they need to have the pricing to match. It doesn’t make sense for them to offer low-cost carrier service with the pricing of a premium airline. Value for money, just as the article says.

  21. Alaska and Southwest are the best!! Times a changing. Reason southwest giving companion pass to West Coast customers and adding Hawaii. Reintroducing them to Southwest and take away massive business from the current Big 3 going forward.

  22. I’m a Brit, patriotic and ex BA Gold… I’m embarrassed to say our “flag carrier” is now operated from Madrid and traded on the Spanish stick market by IAG the group which wholly owns it.
    As for service, they are ULCC service at premium prices and frankly a national embarrassment. Please do NOT think that they offer anything British in their attitudes and approach in 2017-18 and consider #FlyABBA (AnyoneButBritishAirways) since today BA = Bloomin Awful

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