British Airways customer experience will be worse than Ryanair as early as next year….the end of an iconic British brand?


Share on LinkedIn

Following on from my earlier post of September 2016 highlighting how British Airways is sinking into the customer experience mire by taking the opportunity to move from an easily distinguished full service carrier to a hybrid low cost/premium player it now transpires that in a few short months it is potentially going to be a worse experience than Ryanair (long seen as the price champion that ignored experience a model that the travelling public both understood and bought into) but at a higher price, the story continues….to get worse….read on!

The appointment last year of Alex Cruz as Chairman and CEO of British Airways and previously the founder of low cost carrier Clickair was I guess the inevitable death knell for the BA brand and customer experience as we know it. Someone with a background of success in low cost carriers is put in charge of the crown jewel in the airline brand world. It didn’t take long for the free food to go, for routes to be franchised out under the BA brand (but to not even necessarily using BA branded aircraft), paying for specific seats is rife and now the latest and biggest change. BA has announced it is now going to be adding 12 extra seats to its short-haul Airbus A320 fleet from Heathrow, my understanding is that this that this will mean leg room of 29 inches as opposed to the 30 inches offered by Ryanair.

This is described using a term new to me they want to ‘densify’ their aircraft – lovely way of saying cram more people into the same space this was described by Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA’s parent company IAG as “responding to a market opportunity” clearly not for the travelling passenger!!

Not only that but if you want to use them for international travel, whilst the Business and First won’t change, if like the majority of passengers you travel economy, then they are set to increase passenger numbers per flight by adding an extra seat to every row. Their business plan obviously assumes that will be BA money in the bank but that assumes that we are happy to still fly with them given they are now going to be competing with both budget airlines and the likes of the mighty Emirates. Yes Emirates have the 10 seat configuration on Boeing 777’s BUT it has newer aircraft, better service and more regular flights whereas BA is going’ in many cases’ to be retro fitting to older planes by adding an extra seat to every row on its Boeing 777 fleet adding an extra 52 seats to the aircraft from 2018. Travelling passengers will notice this!

When we buy today it is a value based decision and that is a combination of availability, price, service, brand and of course how we feel about a particular supplier. Just as Ryanair has woken up the the power of offering its customers more in terms of an experience BA is heading in the opposite direction. Why does that matter? Is this just not a levelling of the playing field (a market opportunity to quote Willie Walsh). Well I would argue that BA customers have to an extent been loyal because of those little differences – the free food, the better leg room, the brand BUT those customers are going to see a downgrading of their experience and an opportunity to no longer be loyal. As an example the Ryanair customers are seeing the opposite an improvement in service and a feeling of better value for money – I know who I see as the big winners and it is not BA. You have one opportunity to trash the brand (sometimes called moving with the times!!) for a perceived short term gain and the world is littered with the relics of companies that have and never recovered.

As a BA loyalty card member of decades standing I am truly sad that the management are going down this road and my loyalty that was already fading is now almost gone 🙁

Alan Pennington
Currently Chairman of Acme Group the first company to combine customer experience design and award winning creative and advertising company and Non Executive Director of SuiteCX the leading CX software company, he was prior to its sale Managing Director and co-founder of Mulberry Consulting the Number One CE business globally and Executive Chair of 'Experience by Design' a South African based venture.


  1. BA died as credible flag carrier some years ago when Willie Walsh changed the company focus from customer service to share holder dividends and starting slashing costs. He’s now pushed it so far that the economy drive is cutting into the company infrastructure. The big problem BA has is that there’s a lot of talk about the future but behind it there’s a fundamental lack of long-term planning. Take BA’s current fleets – despite their advertising claims they operate some of the oldest aircraft in the industry. A conservative estimate is that in order to keep current BA needs to replace at least 100 aircraft in the next 5-6 years but that’s not what’s happening. Retirement deadlines on the fleets (the 767 is the worst example) have been steadily extended while deliveries of new aircraft like the 787 have been slowed down. That may look good on the balance sheets but it’s not much fun for passengers flying on their tired old 767s and 747s. At the same time BA has poured a small fortune into the A380. That aircraft may look good on their website but operationally it’s an inflexible nightmare that will never produce the kind of returns that investing in new 777s and 787s could have.

    To give a couple of examples of the mess BA are in – As a cost-cutting measure BA paid off experienced cabin crew and tried to replace them with new recruits. The most tangible result of that policy is the current ‘mixed fleet’ dispute but behind those headlines there’s another issue. Their recruitment drives (BA were boasting they’d create something like 3000 new jobs in 2015) didn’t produce the expected results. In fact at the end of 2015 BA were so short of cabin staff they were trying to poach experienced crew from competitors like Virgin Atlantic. BA are also cutting back on the UK maintenance services, there’s another 10% staff cut in the pipeline right now. This is despite two recent major incidents that were attributed to inadequate staffing levels and the fact that aircraft are already having to be flown to the USA for checks that used to be conducted in the UK.

  2. Agreed John there will be a sad case study to be done at some point, I have flown the A380 with BA and was so disappointed as it contains virtually no innovations of note just a re-run of the tired BA look. Whereas other airlines have taken the opportunity, however over the top we may feel they are, to do some really different things in terms of configuration and experiences 🙁


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here