A falling star … or maybe two!

Is not a secret for any of my readers: I was wearing (with so much pride) British Airways uniform for couple of years.

Is a fact that I was working for the airline both in the air and in the office gaining enough insider type of information

Is a privilege to have a lot of friends, both crew and managers so I am not completely cut from what’s the current vibe in Heathrow or Waterside.

I’m flying as a passenger, for business and pleasure at least 5 times a month in Club Europe and Club World and I still keep somewhere same (at least for a sentimental value) my Silver card with British Airways.

Therefore, I do care about British Airways, a little bit more than expected, and far more than Alex Cruz, for sure. Maybe only for the simple reason that I love this airline and I look at BA as former “World’s favourite airline”, not like a cash cow. But since Mr. Cruz started to be the henchman of Willie Walsh and proud accepted to get his hands dirty with the crime of assassinating an amazing brand I started to feel more than disappointment…I AM ANGRY NOW! Actually Cruz&Co don’t kill British Airways; is more like an assisted suicide, with the couple “Slasher Walsh” and “Percy Alex” indulged in self-prise and pulling the plug of the airline.

Flying in the last month 4 times Club with British Airways (once long haul and 3 times European routes) and just getting off from a plane in Gatwick, I wasn’t surprise to find that according to Daily Mail interviewing the CEO of Marketing Research firm Skytrax, British Airways is about to lose their 4 Star rating and now even compares unfavourably to airlines like Aeroflot. Aeroflot, once synonym for horrible service and half day delays is now apparently the benchmark for the national carrier of the UK that is lead by former Vueling low cost CEO Alex Cruz. The Daily Mail calls it yet another humiliation! (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4572010/BA-set-lose-four-star-quality-rating.html).

The boss of research firm Skytrax said Britain’s flagship carrier now compares unfavourably with the state-backed Russian airline, once known for having an appalling safety record, inedible food and rude staff. Skytrax said it is likely to cut BA’s rating to three stars out of five, bringing it in line with budget airline Ryanair, Uzbekistan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Myanmar Airways. Skytrax  rate airlines in an independent manner. The reality  can’t be denied: BA has suffered under the helm of Mr. Cruz who has cut corners every left and right to the point of where it indeed feels like you’re travelling on a budget airline and not Britain’s proud national carrier.

Skytrax said Aeroflot – which is 51 per cent owned by the Russian government – has better in-flight catering and better service. He described Aeroflot as a ‘shining example of an airline that’s transformed themselves’ – compared with BA, which ‘has not invested in the same way’. BA has had four stars since the ratings began 18 years ago. … Keep in mind that the Four Star rating isn’t even the top of the food chain. Airlines such as Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines are holding a Five Star rating, so an even larger distance to BA.

But leaving the rating behind is the BA experience which drive loyal customers nuts.

Mr Cruz has been quoted as saying cutting costs is “now injected into the DNA” of British Airways. Senor Cruz asked about cost cutting programs for BA said: “If one particular day we don’t come up with an idea to reduce our costs, then we’re not doing our job.” What about the passengers, who actually keep you in your office Mr. Cruz? Travellers are already furious at the airline’s decision to scrap free food and drink on short-haul flights in favour of paid-for offerings from Marks & Spencer.

Everybody who use to love BA agree that under its latest CEO BA has deteriorated so much it is as unappealing as it was when it was a state-owned company nicknamed Bloody Awful. This year “has been a tipping point”, says Rita Clifton, a former Saatchi & Saatchi director of strategy who helped create BA’s iconic World’s Favourite Airline campaign. “Most staff and passengers used to love the brand. For too many, that has turned to hate.”

As a Silver Card holder and frequent flyer in Club (Europe or World) I was tempted to believe that an increase in quality of services will happen this year in BA’s aircraft. After my last flight in Club Europe I realised that the statement of Mr. Cruz that short haul business class separates BA from budget carriers is a pile of … words. It’s hard to call a seat which is identical in size, shape and legroom to the offering found in economy, “business class”. Yes, I get that the efficiencies in the airport are good, but budget carriers have those “fast track” privileges now too. With the hit and miss quality of the  lounges it’s hard to discern the finer points, despite the fact that the price it’s consistently inflated in this cabin. No one is looking for a re invented wheel here, just something with considerable legroom, extra padding and food worth tucking into.

I still remember the time when I was dreaming to have a BA ticket and step in one of their planes, when BA was generally considered a top league airline with innovating seats that turn into beds in both first and business class and laying on services such as arrivals lounges serving hot breakfast, providing weary travellers showers while having their suits pressed. BA should be careful; reputations are more difficult to win back than to lose.

Under Cruz BA has introduced “Hand Baggage-Only” fares* (launched pre-Cruz) where even top level members of its loyalty program have to pay for checked baggage and seat assignments. It comes alongside a number of small cuts, such as eliminating the traditional second meal on westbound transatlantic flights to a package of chips, taking away cheese and crackers from the main meal and even bringing the scalpel to its First Class cabin, removing flowers that used to be in the restrooms, slashing extended “Bistro” menu options, cutting out a tasting menu it offered aboard its Airbus A380s and removing an amuse bouche from meal service.

I have a lot of friends still flying for British Airways and their stories, away for the on-line eye of Big Brother Cruz are confirmed by my recent in-flight experience. Flight attendants from business class sometimes have to help sell food in the back, impacting service to its premium passengers. On my flight the bred arrived 30 minutes after the food was served and the drinks after another 20 minutes. What to expect from on flight attendant in a cabin with 8 rows and 15 passengers. Teething pains maybe? Reportedly, cabin crew can’t give out food or drinks during delays for service recovery. In Amsterdam waiting 45 minutes on the tarmac we got a glass with orange juice. But we were lucky in Club Europe; one of my former colleague in charge of an Airbus 320 told me that “Cabin crew has been instructed to give potable water in cups for those that request it only after the paid service has been completed.”

Having to grovel for H2O doesn’t help BA’s image. And there were also reported incidents where passengers were not initially given water, even to take medicine. Why would someone choose to fly on BA when they get nothing on the feeder sector when they could take full-service airline such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar with superior product especially if flying east. Cruz told journalists that he still considers BA a “full-service airline.” No comments!

BA staff and some managers to whom I have spoken say the airline has cut costs too aggressively, eroding what was once its greatest strength: its status as a premium brand. One ex-colleagues of mine from Waterside said: “We just don’t know when to stop cutting costs. There’s no calibration.”

The effects of BA’s decline are obvious, just looking out of the window at Terminal 5. The airline is too reliant on ageing Boeing 747 double-deckers and 777 single-deckers, even if it does have a few shiny new Dreamliners like the one Cruz wanted to show off. Breakdowns and glitches on its aircraft have left many CSDs (cabin service directors) joking darkly that they are “cabin ‘sorry’ directors” because they spend so much time apologising for blank TV screens, dilapidated lavatories and wonky seats.”

I am very subjective. I was flight attendant for BA and I love and respect the cabin crew community. They are amazing people who actually created the name of the airline. Was a time when they were the centre piece of the airline success.

Richard Branson once said: “If You Look After Your Staff, They’ll Look After Your Customers. It’s That Simple. Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Mr. Cruz didn’t have this translated in Spanish!

The cabin crew almost forget the pride and the glamour of working for British Airways. Despite the fact that they are working for a “full-service airline”, my colleagues from Eurofleet and Mixed Fleet are serving Marks & Spencer food and drink. An easy research will show you that Marks & Spencer staff in stores earn more than British Airways Mixed Fleet cabin crew selling the same stuff at 30,000 feet.

In 2010 Willie Walsh said that the airline faced ferocious competition in Europe and beyond, and could no longer afford the generous pay and conditions that cabin crew enjoyed. In that moment the “brilliant solution”was the establishment of a new cabin crew unit, Mixed Fleet. Every new Heathrow cabin crew member since 2010 has been recruited into Mixed Fleet, with inferior terms to longer-serving staff. In time, Mixed Fleet will eventually replace the “legacy” teams of Eurofleet and Worldwide. Until that happens, two or three decades from now, old and new never work together on the same flight. Which, given the discrepancy in pay and conditions, is probably wise.

“We’re not second-class cabin crew,” a friend of mine told me. “We do our job as well as Eurofleet and Worldwide. Why shouldn’t I get what the others get? “When I go and ask for a mortgage, they laugh at me.” She is not a drama queen and her P60 indicated she had earned less than £20,000 last year. “I’ve been at British Airways for six years, and I’ve never entered the sickness process,” she said. A male colleague said that he earned more on a zero-hours contract with Ryanair. His P60 showed income for the year at under £18,000. No surprise that some of my friends already moved to Norwegian and others consider very seriously the new massive recruitment process for easyJet in Gatwick. Funny how this opinions are ignored by the team in Waterside. And similar opinions are not hard to find: “There’s no individuality and no respect for their employees. They have no loyalty towards employees and change the rules as they go along. On paper it seems a nice place to work with career advancement but the reality is quite different” ( from https://www.indeed.co.uk/cmp/British-Airways/reviews?fjobtitle=Flight+Attendant&fcountry=ALL)

And the future doesn’t look good for both crew and passengers: British Airways is trialling something new at London Gatwick on short haul flights, crew give planes a light clean during the time between flights instead of paying contracted cleaners. Crew will be paid an additional £10 per flight segment, and the new standards mean that “a jet’s sewage tank is not always emptied. Instead they fly if it is up to a third full. In addition BA planes can now depart with just 50 per cent levels of drinkable water used for making tea and coffee.”British Airways considers this a test to “see whether passengers notice the planes are not as clean as normal.”

2

Crew give planes a “light clean” during the time between flights

Cruz has pledged not to “Ryanair-ise” short-haul economy, but his words ring hollow for many regular travellers. Especially the new rumour that Ryanair, the budget carrier famous for $9.99 flights, will soon surpass British Airways on short-haul seat pitch in economy class. By adding two rows onto its short-haul intra-Europe Airbus A320s and A321s next year in order to lower seat prices, the carrier will reduce the gap between seats from 30″ to 29″ of pitch, equaling the lowest numbers offered by any European discount carrier. (Comparably, legacy carrier Air France offers 32″ of pitch in their short-haul economy cabin.) British Airways flies to nearly 80 short-haul destinations within Europe, defined by the airline as flights five hours or less. And the next in line are the long-haul flights. Despite existing cramped conditions on BA flights, the current nine-seat row on its long-haul aircraft is set to get even tighter – with toilets being stripped out to make way for more seats. The 10-seat rows in economy will feature in economy cabins on long-haul Boeing 777s flying out of Heathrow and Gatwick.22

On social media, a Gold Card holder said: “BA is to become even more uncomfortable, with narrower seats and inevitably less leg room”. But is nobody there to hear that! Somebody else suggested Cruz a new policy, in line with his recent decisions: “Perhaps a new idea for a fee is to require that all passengers clean the area around their seats themselves, or they can pay £5 to have a flight attendant clean for them. A £5 fee per passenger would be a revenue stream rather than incurring £10 per flight attendant per flight!”

Rather than compete on price while offering a more refined experience, offering add-ons for purchase to increase revenue for the airline, British Airways is in a distinctive game of copycat—one that may prove treacherous, experts say, as many discount carriers look to bolster their more premium offerings as British Airways slashes away.

If Alex Cruz will receive an award for his latest achievements for sure the list will be quite long. Let’s have a quick run through the greatest hits (or rather, misses…):

  • No more free food and drink included on short-haul flights. Everyone loves Percy Pigs of course, but I’d rather have the option of a complimentary Gin & Tonic!
  • The introduction of Hand Baggage Only fares led to confusion for Elite Executive Club members and for passengers booking through online travel agencies.
  • Removing proper cleaning between flights.
  • A range of Avios devaluations that make long-haul Premium Cabin redemptions extremely expensive and uncompetitive compared to other loyalty programmes.
  • The apparent bad attitude from the top, including the infamous ‘show me the ******* money‘ investment slide (https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2201771/greedy-british-airways-bosses-joke-about-crude-slogan-show-me-the-fing-money-as-passengers-face-less-leg-room-and-cramped-seats/)
  • Last but not least, the plan to offer less legroom than Ryanair!

Ryanair and Ba are a business-school case study in managing expectations. If your hallmark is comfort and courtesy, lower fares will never compensate customers for cuts and slip-ups. If your selling proposition is ruthless low-cost efficiency, play that on-time fanfare and you’ll be forgiven for everything else.

Talking about the disruptions caused by BA’s computer system outage RBS Capital Markets analyst Damian Brewer has said BA’s apparent failure to have learnt lessons from rivals problems “suggests fundamental management and planning weakness”. And I strongly believe that the idea can be applied to other areas in BA too.

So many things to say … maybe too many…

With no intention to ignore my unconditional love for British Airways and my huge respect for BA cabin crew community I can’t stop thinking that is time for somebody to start packing.

There is a VLG flight to Madrid tonight at 8.30PM…

a

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~ by leonard69 on July 28, 2017.

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