20 Inglorious BA Stewards

Yes, since you ask, I am a dissatisfied customer. And not just because we’re still sitting on the stand 40 minutes after take-off time.

Have you ever felt the air beneath your wings at the exact time the flight is actually scheduled to leave? Nor has anyone. Why is that? If the West Wessex Steam Railway Company staffed entirely every third weekend by Rick and Bob and Clive’s ex-wife, don’t ask, can achieve departure KPIs of 96% efficiency, why can’t British Airways?

Is it because air travel is a pact with the devil? The airline agrees to transport you at preternatural speed in an unfeasibly heavy metal object to a destination that’s a lifetime away by your normal method of donkey and cart, but in return you sacrifice most of your human rights.

Passport Control was a breeze. But now you are made to queue in a snaking chain-gang of reptilian civilians, moving 30 yards in 30 minutes, and then made to remove all those expensive items like your matching watch, belt and shoes combo from George at Asda, in case they’re a designer nuclear warhead, and put them into a big grey hospital tray so that all the forensic scientists with their blue pullovers and snap-on gloves can enjoy some prurient me-time with their X-ray cameras, yawning at each other all the while.

Once that’s done, please enjoy some more queuing at the Gate, your time is valuable to us, while we tell you over a specialist hi-feedback tannoy system no plausible reason for your delay yourself at all today.

It wasn’t the delay. It was the sandwich.

gate gourmet

You’d think, if you were leaving Gatwick on a midday flight lasting nearly three hours, that you’d get lunch. On British Airways. This wasn’t Ryanair after all, where you have to pay separately for breathing. (For further hilarious ideas, such as charging extra for ice in the drink you’ve just been charged for, by our little flying Irish screw-you correspondent fellow Michael O’Leary, third barrow on the left, Tipperary market, every second Tuesday, best prices paid for grandmothers, visit www.allgreatquotes.com/michael_oleary_quotes.shtml.)

On BA, we’d be ok. Except that the Chief Executive of British Airways is miniature Dubliner Willie Walsh. So what we actually have now is our native airspace controlled by two tiny Irishmen engaged in a childhood grudge match about harses. And you and I are paying the price.

On BA we didn’t get lunch, we got a sandwich. It came without charge, but also without charm. This was a sandwich without any pretentious accessorising by way of half a piece of fruit on the side. Just two slices of dry bread smeared with something even slimier than the cling film that encased it.

This was a sandwich that proved Lidl is now luxury shopping. A logo-less sandwich so ashamed of itself that one began to feel not just hunger pangs but pangs of nostalgia for its predecessor in BA customer nutrition provision, the rubber chicken salad never knowingly organic.

This was a sandwich that didn’t even come with a tray. Where was my plastic fork, so I could know I had eaten? Where was my chemical lemon wipe, so I could smell cheap for the next two hours?

Cabin Crew Tiffany (comes with real hair) wasn’t interested. She had already been set to automatic and cross-checked. But, as a result of impeccable training, she dropped a Customer Satisfaction Form into my lap. And, as a result of my having finished reading the stained in-flight magazine, I dutifully composed a one-sentence synopsis of my customer issues.

What follows are actual extracts from the letter I received this morning from the BA Customer Relations Team, plus the training notes the writer presumably received.

“Dear Mr Dinwoodie
I am sorry you are unahppy [sic] about the changes we have made to our onboard catering service. I can understand how upsetting it must have been to be served only a sandwich as you were expecting to be served with something more substantial.”

Lesson 1: Establish empathy, emphasise your understanding of enormous upsettingness regardless of how trivial customer complaint. If you can phrase this patronisingly so that they feel belittled after the event, so much the better.

“We have focused on removing cost in areas where there should be no or minimal impact to our customers or in areas where customers have told us the current offering offers little or no value to their in-flight experience.”

Lesson 2: Use the word “focus”, it’s vague but sounds good. Use “should” to tell customers what they ought to be thinking, as opposed to what they actually believe. Imply they’re mad as hatters if they challenge what other “customers have told us”.

“We recognise it is vital to maintain the high standards that we pride ourselves on and that we continue to deliver value for money to our customers as part of our commitment to remain a full-service airline. This includes delivering world-class service consistently.”

Lesson 3: Never underestimate the power of absolutely meaningless guff like this. Litter your sentences with random management clichés and words like “vital…pride…commitment…” Sebastian from PR read some stuff like this in a book once and gave it the thumbs up.

“Your experience as a customer will always be our top priority.”

Lesson 4: Always laugh up your sleeve as you type this line. For extra irony, put that bloody Delibes tune on in the background and say we care. Say it over and over. But do not divert resources into improving customer service while we still have that massive ad agency bill to pay. See how well we’re looking after our customers? I’m an excellent driver.

And how this relates to business is…?
Good question.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember


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