British Airways has been in cost-cutting mode for years now – But as more and more passengers and experts alike question whether the airline has cut too far, BA has somehow retained its official Four Star rating. For the time being at least. The news will be a welcome surprise for the airline which has been battling a series of high-profile setbacks – with even more woes just around the corner.
At the Paris Air Show on Tuesday, the Skytrax World Airline Awards took place with yet another Middle East airline taking home the top award. For the fourth time, Qatar Airways was named the World’s best Airline. British Airways, however, wasn’t quite so successful. The Heathrow-based airline, dropped 14 places to be ranked the 40th best airline in the world.
Dubbed the Oscars of the aviation world, the Skytrax awards saw Russian airline, Aeroflot jump ahead of BA, landing in 30th place. Even North American airlines, including Delta, Alaska Airlines and jetBlue positioned higher in the global Top 100. British Airways only narrowly beat the UK low-cost carrier, easyJet who came in 41st position on the list.
Skytrax says their rating system is both internationally recognised and an effective measure of assessing and evaluating “front-line quality standards of an airline”. The airline awards organisation claims their ‘unified quality classification system’ is both fair and independent.
Having said that, Skytrax doesn’t publish the guidelines their assessors follow so it’s sometimes hard to gauge why one airline performs so well compared to another. But for many, British Airways has consistently failed to keep up with the level of service and product offering of many other Four Star awarded rivals.
Critics claims the BA Business Class seat is old, cramped and a decade behind the times. Free snacks have been removed on short haul flights and economy passengers on longer flights only receive one meal. Even the seat pitch on European flights is set to shrink to a paltry 29 inches – less than Ryanair.
Perhaps, British Airways has realised the cost cutting programme has gone too far. Alex Cruz, the airline’s CEO recently announced a £400 million investment for the Club World business class product. A new meal service is to be introduced and upgraded amenities will hopefully restore the faith of business travellers in the airline’s brand.
But Cruz, the former CEO of low-cost Spanish airline, Vueling, has previously said cutting costs is now injected into the DNA of British Airways. His boss, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA’s parent company, IAG, has stood resolutely behind Cruz and claims it makes economic sense to reduce costs wherever possible.
Yet British Airways is fighting a tide of negative publicity in a series of high profile setbacks. A recent IT meltdown left thousands of passengers stranded and is set to cost BA at least £80 million. A couple of weeks later and the baggage system at Heathrow Airport failed – leaving passengers without their bags for days. And then there’s a two-week cabin crew strike that is due to start in July.
On top of all that, BA’s director of customer experience has suddenly left the customer without anyone to fill his position. Troy Warfield was only with the airline for the 18-months and was responsible for a broad portfolio including customer relations, customer insights and product development. Warfield was also responsible for 14,000 cabin crew at a crucial time for the airline.
British Airways has simply said that a successor will be chosen in “due course”. Speaking earlier this year of the airline’s investment plans, Cruz commented: “We will invest and innovate where our customers value it most, and differentiate ourselves with a unique onboard experience and service.” Let’s hope the Skytrax assessors see the fruits of this investment before it’s too late.