In Depth

Why British Airways has nosedived with passengers

UK’s national airline drops to second-last place in Which? long-haul rankings

British Airways has slumped to second last place in a poll of customer satisfaction with major airlines, with only Ryanair faring worse.

The UK’s flag carrier airline has been criticised for the cost-cutting measures new management introduced in 2016.

And those cutbacks appear to be taking their toll, judging by the annual poll in consumer magazine Which?. In it, BA ranks poorly in almost every category, The Telegraph reports.

“Once self-proclaimed ‘the world’s favourite airline’, BA has this year found itself grounded,” the consumer magazine said of BA’s fall from grace. But what went so wrong for BA?

What did the rankings say?

The annual Which? Travel airline survey ranks airlines based on the experiences of the 6,500 survey participants with regard to the service’s food, seat comfort and value for money on both short and long-haul services.

BA performed poorly in all categories, being kept off the foot of the table in the long-haul rankings only by American Airlines, with customer satisfaction score of 55% (first placed Singapore Airlines had 88%).

Meanwhile BA finished third from bottom in the short-haul rankings, ahead of Ryanair (bottom) and Vueling (second from bottom), with another 55% score for customer satisfaction. Air Aurigny, a small airline serving the Channel Islands, took the top spot.

What went wrong?

BA was awarded the best short-haul airline title in the 2015 Which? Travel survey, but a number of issues have contributed to its decline in recent years.

Which? puts the blame on IT failures and power outages that resulted in mass cancellations, as well as data breaches and the recently resolved pilots’ dispute – problems it says have “continued to see the airline descend in customers’ estimations”.

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But others believe the problem stems from a significant business strategy shift introduced by current CEO Alex Cruz, who joined in 2016.

A low-cost airline guru, Cruz has presided over an overhaul of BA’s operations so the airline can compete with budget airlines in Europe. This has included scrapping free food and drink on short-haul flights, with two in five of BA’s passengers claiming the food that was available wasn’t worth the money. 

Furthermore, Cruz also introduced a new pricing system including categories such as Basic, Plus and Plus Flex, which gave options to fly without checked luggage, and with additional costs for seat selection and flight changes.

But survey respondents added that BA’s flights were still poor value for money.

As the Telegraph notes: “It would be unfair to lay the blame at Alex Cruz’s door, but the beginning of his tenure is unfortunate when considering the above.”

What has BA said?

The airline has publicly disputed the Which? findings and says they are not based on reliable data.

“Our own data shows customer satisfaction scores have increased, and continue to increase, as we deliver our £6.5bn investment for customers on new aircraft, new food, new lounges and new technology,” a spokesperson said. 

“We offer our customers a choice of cabins on all our flights, lounges for business class customers, free food for all long-haul flights and business class for short haul, and we are delighted to be able to offer our customers the most extensive network by any UK airline.”

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