In-flight disappointment

British Airways’ cost-cutting has led to a brand identity crisis – they need to think and act fast to win back customer loyalty.
Alice Kounougakis

July 4, 2018

In October 2016 I was awaiting a BA flight back to London from LA, and tweeted them to get an update on what turned out to be a 22 hour delay. Unfortunately for me, it was the very day that BA had announced they would be stopping the free food and drinks on short-haul flights, so the social media team was rather preoccupied.

The consumer backlash that followed the announcement was to be expected. People love getting something for nothing, so taking away a free perk will always cause disappointment, frustration, and threats of a boycott. Their attempt to spin it as a positive for their passengers was a bold PR move, but the decision-making process was sound. BA were struggling to compete with low-cost competitors, and this proposition presented a clear opportunity to save a chunk of cash. However, it also risked putting BA in a vulnerable position, whereby consumers would start to question exactly what they’re paying a premium for. The execution, therefore, was critical...

...and this is where things went wrong. Following the change going live in January 2017, tales of woe started to surface in the press about passengers going hungry as flights routinely ran out of food. These were perhaps inevitable teething problems, but my last short-haul economy flight with BA was only a couple of weeks ago, a full 18 months post launch, and the experience continues to disappoint. On both the outbound and return journey it took the crew somewhere in the region of 90 minutes to reach my row. Their decision to allow card payments only, and with contactless payments now available, should surely mean a speedy process – and yet the opposite is true. There is a clear need to drive time efficiencies with both service and payments.

On the return journey, by the time they’d reached my row (14), they had run out of ALL food apart from a solitary bag of crisps, with several more expectant rows of passengers still to serve. The only positive I could take out from the experience was the cabin crew, who remained upbeat and professional throughout the debacle, and were a real credit to their employer. But how long can they be expected to stick around and carry a brand that already makes them feel undervalued and underpaid to the point of striking?

All in all, it is a real shame for a brand that was once so aspirational,  promoting itself as ‘the World’s Favourite Airline’. More importantly for the company, the missed commercial opportunities are staggering. They have a captive audience, people who actually want to give them their money, and yet they block them through a combination of slow service and an inability to establish the right stock level to satisfy customer demand.

It is clear that something needs to be done to avoid hangry customers as summer holiday season approaches. BA could take a look at other sectors and learn from them:

1. Pre-order during purchase

In the same way you can pre-buy interval dinner or drinks at the theatre when you buy your tickets, BA could promote its food offer when people buy their flight. How about some sort of meal deal with your ticket, with passengers given the chance to save money by ordering food up front? That way, there is some indication of demand, and also the opportunity for BA to secure revenue. 

2. Pre-order at the terminal
Alternatively, technology offers opportunities, such as an app or in-terminal kiosks to allow passengers to take advantage of pre-flight downtime to pre-order food and drink. 

3. Delivery to gate
Finally, how about replicating what many of us now do regularly, and adopting a Deliveroo-style service? BA partnering with the in-terminal outlets so you can order your food to be delivered at the gate could create a win win situation for all. 

Or is it as simple as investigating where efficiencies can be driven in the current approach, for the sake of the crew, the hungry and frustrated customers, and the future of the BA brand.

At Morar HPI we work with brands to identify problems and find solutions, keeping the consumer at the heart of decision-making to ensure change is being driven in the areas that matter most and that present the best commercial outcomes.

Morar HPI Limited is part of MIG Global and part of the Next15 Group.

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