British Airways take my “Expectation versus actual Customer Experience” test…..and score 2/10..


Share on LinkedIn

This article generated a lot of interest when I published it earlier this week on my blog, it plays to the heart of the issue with Customer Experience – in the end it is about delivering on the customer expectation that you as brand have actively created. It is no longer acceptable to mislead and compromise that experience hoping that firstly none will notice and secondly they will not call you out on all from of social media and old fashioned word of mouth for ‘cheating’ on the expectation. I am now producing a series of brand experience road tests to challenge and reward hopefully in equal measure over the coming months!!

Since I penned it just last week, it was very interesting to see it being reported in the press this week that they now plan to charge for food on short haul via a commercial tie up with the upmarket retailer Marks & Spencer (unlikely to be cheap food to buy then one would expect), I guess if you have an ex budget Airline CEO in charge you are going to take your leadership from someone who thinks this is all just evolving the brand (to a model he is more familiar with) – the idea is you charge for food and that allows you to lower your flight price to compete with the low cost carrier Easy Jet’s of the world. We all know what will happen in reality, the prices may initially drop a little but then they will creep back up because BA will always feel it is a cut above the ‘bucket airlines’ and deserves a premium.

What will be interesting is to see if the BA marketing and advertising recognises this degrading of the brand position and pro-actively provides an adjusted expectation for customers …or will they just hope we don’t notice 🙁

Ok the background to this is going up to Edinburgh on British Airways to play an annual golf event that has been running for some 27 years now!!

So to the story and the score in more detail I booked the flight some time ago using Expedia (£215.17) chose BA as it is a full service carrier and and I prefer that to the low cost alternatives, my expectation based on hundreds of flights with BA over the years was that it would be better from a safety point of view relatively new and well maintained aircraft, sensible seating with a bit of leg room, perhaps some food and luggage allowance. This expectation was based on those previous experiences and the advertising of BA.

How did they do?

First thing was checking in on-line and thankfully I did that as I had a rather nasty surprise – when I clicked 2 bags to check it advised me that my ticket was hand baggage only – even thought the Expedia confirmation had a footnote that “The airline may charge additional fees for checked baggage” my simple assumption borne of all previous experiences was that BA is full service I would get my 2 bags and that was more than enough…but no!

So I clicked on the extra baggage to discover that they wanted to charge me another £170 to check in two bags and if I had done it at at the airport £260!!!! So the cost of taking two bags weighing less than 40Kg was more than my entire journey as a fully grown adult weighing somewhat more than that – unbelievable and totally unjustified. Ok I had no choice so did the deed and then went to the seating – ok it offered me a middle seat at the back of the plane, not ideal so I moved my seat only to discover that to do that they then wanted to charge me another £11 for one option or £9 for another, what? I am now getting more than disappointed with my experience. Having seen this I decided that the middle seat would do they were all reasonable leg room it was a short flight…how wrong I was!!

Get to the airport and check-in unlike my previous experience a month earlier (see my earlier blog post) was smooth and I was airside in under 20 minutes. Now onto the plane oh no what is this, they have contracted out my flight to a Danish low cost airline Jettime complete with Danish crew. The plane was old, the seating was so cramped that I had to adopt a very awkward elbows tucked in position for the entire flight to avoid my fellow passengers. So now I am paying a premium price and flying on a low cost carrier – I think that has to be close to illegal and certainly an awful brand experience. Rather bizarrely amidst the Danish airline branded crew and aircraft the BA High Life magazine was in the seat pocket – trying to suggest that this was a BA flight and only serving to emphasise what you were missing. To reinforce the point further that this was not BA flight the crew continuously referred to our destination as EdinBERG mmmm :((

On to the return leg, this was delayed by over an hour but was a big BA jet 7 seats across so a busy flight for such a short journey – about 20 minutes before we landed the crew read out a long list of flight numbers then say “all those passengers on those inter-connecting flights should go to the International Transfer Desk as they had all been booked on later flights”, arghh poor people. As we approached the Gate the Captain comes on the intercom explaining the delay was having to take bags off when passengers on the inbound flight had not shown up – this can happen – but then he blithely trotted out the script he has been given for just such occasions “sorry I hope you have not been inconvenienced by the delay” now hold on he knows that a significant number of passengers have just been hugely inconvenienced and faced I don’t know how many hours delay connecting and probably other impacts at their destinations!!

After the flight I get the how was it for you survey and give the not good feedback, then I complete the yes they can contact me to discuss this feedback – I hold out no hope that they will or that they will compensate me for the sub standard experience. Of course the impact in the mid term is less business from me and the knock on impact of me relaying this story that undermines the tens of millions spent on brand advertising.

So what can we learn from this?

Firstly someone in BA no doubt distant for the actual flying experience took a commercial decision to outsource the BA brand to a low cost Danish provider, I wonder if they have ever actually sat on the plane that is supposed to represent BA and justify its premium price position, I think not and if the answer was yes and they then thought that was acceptable then that is even worse – outsourcing is a huge risk for businesses because in reality you outsource the experience and in this case it palpably does not work. As I noted there must also be a case for fraud through misrepresenting the experience/cost equation.

Second if BA want to maintain the premium brand position they need to reconsider adopting the commercial practices of low cost carriers – I don’t mind that Ryanair charges for hold luggage or assigned seating you are paying a very low base fare and then choosing to bolt on costs and you are in control you know what you get. BA shouldn’t be expecting passengers to pay for moving seat, for putting some bags in the hold, they are a full service airline with high entry cost of a ticket that now wants the pricing structures of a low cost provider. That is a commercial decision and yes it might generate a few more pounds but that is BAD PROFIT and will cost the business in the long run.

Finally it is good to give your crew particularly Captains and flight crew the words to use when things go wrong but they also need to be smart enough to adapt what they say when they know that in this case passengers are going to suffer major consequences as a result of a delay, platitudes/insincerity only serve to inflame the situation – it was interesting to see that the Captain did not manage to stand by the door saying goodbye to the unhappy passengers he remained firmly locked away in his cockpit!

The British Airway Expectation versus actual Customer Experience score 2/10


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. Alan, it may sound petty, but with you apparently being a frequent flyer (probably even a hi tier member of their loyalty program) – wouldn’t you also expect being seated according to your (surely known) preference and somewhere in the front of the plane? After all loyalty (whether formalised through the program membership or not) is a bi-directional thing …

    2 ct from Down Under

  2. Hi Thomas you are absolutely right but don’t get me started on the BA Loyalty Scheme – it is the most one sided of all of the schemes I am part of and could be the subject of a whole blog on it’s own!
    I know this sounds very negative about BA but it is actually because as a customer I really care about this Brand and how it seems to be going the wrong direction for me as a passenger, that is about the commercial strategy the Executive team are adopting but many of the immediate experiential problems could be rectified without huge expense 🙂


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