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Does HfP have an ‘anti-BA’ bias?

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I received a private message via Flyertalk yesterday from a British Airways employee who said, to paraphrase, that he was fed up with the anti-BA bias that he felt runs through the site.

In my experience most BA employees are not hugely enamoured by everything done by their employer, so I wouldn’t want to dismiss his complaint on that basis.  In some ways, I am tempted to take it more seriously!

What pushed him over the edge was this line in my review of the Eurostar lounge at St Pancras yesterday:

British Airways A350

“There is also no shortage of reading material, which always wins brownie points with me, [and] which makes the weak British Airways Galleries selection look pitiful.”

Ironically, I received this message whilst sitting in a two hour meeting with a senior IAG employee who at no time expressed any issues with my content.

My response was this:

I need to use a common frame of reference for comparison purposes in reviews.  The logical comparison point is with British Airways because that is an airline that most HfP readers fly.  If I had compared the Eurostar magazine selection to the typical Singapore Airlines lounge magazine selection, it wouldn’t have meant much to 95% of the readers.

(I could, I admit, have pointed out that the breakfast on offer in the Eurostar lounge is far worse than the breakfast offered by British Airways – and I didn’t.  Magazines in lounges are a personal bug-bear of mine, however, as long-term readers will know.)

It makes no sense for me to run down British Airways.   Avios, and the fact that you can use Avios to redeem for aspirational flying experiences, is a key driver of this site.  If I was permanently criticising BA it would not be great for business.

I don’t think there is a single frequent flyer in the country who genuinely believes that British Airways is offering the market leading product compared to Qatar, Etihad, Emirates etc.  Even American Airlines, unbelievably (given its history), is now offering a business class product on most London flights which beats the BA seat on most criteria.  I would lose all of my credibility if my writing implied that BA could do no wrong.

I have 13 BA flights in my diary between now and mid-September …..

It is also true, to be honest, that criticism is easier to write, and more interesting to read, than praise.  However, for the record, here are a few things I honestly believe even though the general opinion out there is often the opposite:

Heathrow Terminal 5 is a fantastic facility

British Airways afternoon tea in Club Europe is OK and I’m not sure what would be a better option

The British Airways lounges at Heathrow are generally very good and are worth spending time in

The Club World cabin – irrespective of how you find the seats – on the new 787 aircraft is a very classy piece of work

The Avios booking system at ba.com is, in terms of ease of use and the number of partner airlines which can  be booked with it, almost best in class

Reward Flight Saver – and the BA short haul reward pricing structure in general – is a good idea and puts other frequent flyer programmes short haul pricing to shame

The guaranteed ‘4 + 2’ reward availability for Avios seats on BA is a genuine improvement (although 4 + 4 would be even better)

The British Airways Premium Plus American Express ‘2 for 1’ voucher is the most attractive credit card reward in the UK

I obviously need to have a lie down now after such a rare burst of BA enthusiasm 🙂


British Airways BA Amex American Express

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Comments (178)

  • Bob says:

    Are the ME3 airlines (which people tend to use as comparison) private companies operating under the same commercial pressures as BA?

    • rossmacd says:

      Does it really matter? Especially when comparing on the ground and onboard service provision? Quite frankly, I could not care if the airline is making a profit, losing money hand over fist, or being subsidised by a government. It makes no difference to me as a passenger.

      • Rob says:

        No they’re not. Oman Air, for example, just had to pay $75m to get a pair of slots at Heathrow to run one flight a day, whilst BA got all its slots for free!

    • Ben says:

      For me this is irrelevant. My decision to fly with X airline will be based on price and product and not corporate finance structures. BA are competing with these other airlines whether they like it or not, so the only way they can avoid further commercial pressures is to improve their pricing and/or products and not rely so heavily on the fact they have such a dominant position out of London (and nostalgia).

    • Anthony Dunn says:

      Demonstrably not.
      Whilst Emirates’ Tim Clark loves to trot out reams of figures about EK’s performance, the dividends it has paid to the Dubai government (err, read, Royal family…), what is conspicuously ignored is the level of gearing that EK has. Try comparing this with any other publicly quoted company such as Ryanair or Easyjet and you will see that EK’s gearing, at well over 100%, is far higher than a quoted company could manage, or markets would allow. The reason, as explained to me by a friend who works for one of Wall Street’s most (in)famous investment banks is that EK’s borrowings are deemed to be qua-sovereign debt, underwritten by the UAE authorities. This is explicitly the case with Qatar whose financial reporting is opaque, being a wholly state-owned airline.

      BA most certainly inherited most of its landing slots at Heathrow, in much the same way that EK, QR, EY et al inherited their slots in their respective home bases.

      • Rob says:

        A small dog could make a profit running an airline with a home airport running 24/7 with 5 (?) runways, modern fuel efficient planes, no legacy pension costs (BA is a pension fund with aircraft on the side) and within a few hours reach of over half the global population.

        • Anthony Dunn says:

          Indeed – and with very low staff costs courtesy of using imported labour from much of the Indian sub-continent. By way of contrast, BA is (in Michael O’Blarney’s words) “a pension fund with wings…” Not that that stood in his way from making a turn on his stake in Aer Lingus.

          Beyond that, no this website is emphatically NOT anti-BA. In contrast to some other sites, such as Business Traveller which sometimes get to be a tad monotonously and repetitiously “let’s pick holes in anything and everything about BA and ignore the point that many of the problems confronting BA are the same much of the world over…”

        • Lux says:

          To be fair, Dubai airport has just two runways – one for some time last year – and Doha has one. No NIMBYs though.

          • harry says:

            The airport is the most civilised element of both countries and a serious lifeline to first world standards of living – nobody sane living there is going to object to airline movements.

            Totally unrelated: about time DC bit the bullet & approved both extra runways, he might actually find that it swiftly turns out to be a deeply popular move with 99% of the UK population.

          • Rob says:

            True. Dubai World Central will have five runways when complete though! Add in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and you will have an astonishing capability within a few square miles.

          • Lady London says:

            Let’s hope their air traffic control remains up to snuff then.

  • Aliks says:

    BA is heavily protected against market forces by its stranglehold on Heathrow slots, and the fact that BA is the national carrier. If my flight options are restricted and I have to fly BA, then I am perfectly entitled to vent my irritation at any problems I see.

    I have no time for the argument that “frontline staff are working terribly hard and get really upset if any aspect of their employer is publicly criticised” BA should welcome the free market research and feedback they are getting.

    • Deenesh says:

      Agree to an extent but front line airline staff DO work very hard in sometimes lose-lose situaations where Ops control will make decisions and there is nothing you can do but take the flack from the customers. Perhaps you are detached enough from your job that critisism of your company doesn’t bother you in which case I’m not sure I’m happy for you or concerend that your customers are getting dissinterested service but personally I go in to work and I want each one of my passengers to have the best possible experience. I give 100% every day but sometimes the “higher-ups” just don’t give us anything to work with. I think this is where the annoyance from the BA employee in question will come from.

      • Aliks says:

        When you work for a large company (10,000) plus staff, there are always bits of the operation that are disaster areas and you cant pretend otherwise – but this doesn’t affect pride in your own work.

        • Deenesh says:

          Hence when your company is critisised it is only expected that you may take offence to that as you face the backlash publically and on the job when higher management escape it. I’m not saying don’t point out flaws and areas to imporve but you can’t expect people who work hard on the front lines in customer facing roles to take it just a little personally.

          • Deenesh says:

            *not to take it a little personally

          • Aliks says:

            Yup I agree that senior management sometimes hide from the consequences of their mistakes and let frontline staff take the flack.

    • Anthony Dunn says:

      I really don’t see that BA is at all insulated from market forces (even in “Fortress Heathrow” ) – which is precisely why it has taken the cost-cutting at every opportunity, bean-counter lead strategy to heart in the way it has. It was interesting Willy Walsh recently noted that revenues and yield in premium cabins had recently started to go soft. No idea or not whether this is because the likes of me and mine have chosen to avail ourselves of either the continental dog-leg routine, use AMS or ANOther European continental “jump-off” point to fly on QR, CX or other carriers.

      There are other strategies in the locker that could be tried but BA’s is driven by its clearly stated intention (see Capital Markets’ Day presentations passim) of regaining an investment grade debt rating at the same time as paying regular dividends to shareholders. This needs to be paid for somewhere and somehow.

      • Rob says:

        Tesco, though, is an example of what happens when you go down this route. A business which appeared to be doing very well but was chipping away so much that eventually the business cracked.

        For me, the key Tesco moment was a press story I read about Tesco Finest bacon. Asda had put their equivalent product on special offer, but Tesco was crowing about how it had managed to protect margin by reducing the quality of its Finest bacon for the promo period and then price matching Asda.

        Things only ever end badly when you head down that road.

        • Anthony Dunn says:

          Agreed. My comments were based upon BA’s own public statements (via the CMD presentations) rather than being my own views.

          BA gives you, me and many others the impression of viewing their shareholders and the capital markets as first in their order of priorities rather than their customers. This is the complete opposite of how a marketing-lead company would perform. In itself, this is rather unusual in the service sector where reputations are hard earned and easily lost.

          I would tend to see things from the opposite end of the telescope so I would argue that revenues and yield will accrue from an outstanding product (which does not have to be as good as EK, QR or EY) but which positively induces paying passengers to walk through the door.

          But as a mere passenger who pays his own fares, what would I know?!

  • Matt says:

    BA is not bad and I having flown business in Qatar find it a bit overrated. However some of the BA pricing is a bit ridiculous – I managed to fly a couple of long hall trips in Qatar business for not much more than the BA economy options.

  • Isabel says:

    As an ardent rewards collector I am not familiar with the BA 4 +2 reward. Please could someone explain. Thanks

    • Yuff says:

      BA have guaranteed to release a minimum of4 reward seats in economy and 2 in club world per flight.
      Regarding all the comments about the quality of service on BA, everyone has different standards and expectations when choosing who to fly with. There are also many factors to consider including convenience, time and cost as well as the hard product. When all these are weighed up people will then make their decision on who to use. BA want to make as much out of the customer against providing a service the customer will be happy with.
      BA does a very good job but other airlines do a better job, some do it worse.
      My only comparison with BA club world is Qatar on a 787 and that product comes very close to BA F imo. Depending on cost and inconvenience to connect to an ex Eu flight, for Qatar, I would choose Qatar every time. Qatar J and BA F is less clear cut and convenience of the flight plays a major role in my decision 😉

  • Robin says:

    Talking of magazine selection, my only complaint of BA is the number of flights where the ONLY newspaper was the god-awful Daily Mail. Even though that newspaper frequently slates BA!
    Imagine an entire aircraft of passengers leafing through page after page of diatribe and venom. It really has spoiled more than one flight where I forgot to bring any intelligent reading material …

    • Brian says:

      +1

    • Anthony Dunn says:

      I won’t even allow that rag past the front door. Given the choice of the Daily Getsmuchworse or nothing, then nothing remains considerably enlightening and stimulating.

  • Carl Cross says:

    Please please don’t ever change the way you talk about BA. As a gold BA FF I spend a lot of time in their lovely 8 across business class and can’t get enough of their horse and hound weekly and gardening months publications in their spacious and quiet lounges…. Oh wait that’s every other airline without a west London monopoly…. I live for my daily HFP BA sarcasism… Oh and I’m sitting in St Pancras about to go through security and use my platinum Amex in the lounge which I didn’t know I could till yesterday! Never change!

  • czechoslovakia says:

    Keep up the good work Rob – You can`t keep everyone happy all of the time. To the genuinely proud BA staff member, you might to do a great job, and be rightly proud of that. But not all of your colleagues have the same mindset, whether that be BA staff or otherwise. A lot of what lets BA down isn`t fully within their control.
    Other people have different views because they have different needs. I specifically avoid BA because changing in Heathrow is a major pain. That isn`t BAs fault. Why i need to be frisked a second time there after a domestic is beyond me, especially with the little one. Doesn`t happen in Germany so I transit there. LH gets most of business because of something it doesn`t even have a say in.
    BA makes the best brew in the air – but that`s not enough.
    Herein lies the problem, you are either a quality provider, or budget. BA, like many, try to both, and compromises are things which cause nobody to be fully satisfied. Fly Ryanair and expect bad everything. Fly “the worlds favourite airline”, you expect perfection at every level.

    • Anthony Dunn says:

      Interesting, I have yet to transit (recent examples include BKK, HKG, OSL, BNE and DOH) without the need to go through another security check. If passengers transiting through German airports are not required to do this, then I would question the level of security that pertains there – and I would avoid as a result.

    • Temp says:

      I couldn’t agree more. BAs business model is being squeezed at both ends, with extreme pressure from low cost carriers in short haul and long haul carriers consistently upgrading and many now offering far superior offerings in long haul. Competing in both segments means it is effectively stuck in the middle…and perhaps the problem is it attempts it’s best to be everything to all people and markets itself as a premium carrier when the reality is less clear cut. Any investment in service raises a cost base which can never be as low as the LCCs. The same happened to the US network carriers when LCCs grew in the US and only decades and many mergers later are they starting to invest more in their products and services. The same is likely to happen in Asia. The Gulf carriers aren’t (yet) prone to the same pressures.

    • Temp says:

      I couldn’t agree more. BAs business model is being squeezed at both ends, with extreme pressure from low cost carriers in short haul and other airlines upgrading and many now offering superior products in long haul. Competing in both segments means it is effectively stuck in the middle… Any investment in service raises a cost base which can never be as low as the LCCs. All the Euro network carriers are struggling with this and it is telling that most unfavourable comparisons aren’t made with AF, KLM, LH etc. The same happened to the US legacy carriers when LCCs grew there and only decades and many mergers later are they starting to invest more in their products. Similar is likely to happen in Asia. The Gulf carriers aren’t prone to the same pressures (and have lower cost bases anyway). Perhaps the problem is BA’s perception as a ‘premium’ carrier when the reality is less clear cut.

  • JP says:

    I think your response was well balanced and highlighted the root cause – BA is the benchmark.

    As you’ve probably correctly identified, most of your readers are familiar with the airline and it’s offering.

    BA completes both Long and Short Haul, but usually the comparisons made on this site are up – Vs it’s Long Haul Competitors – Emirates, Eithad, Singapore, Lufthansa. You aren’t comparing against Easyjet, Ryanair or the likes of KLM.

    Your statements of comparison are usually supported by fact or pictures in terms of reviews.

    All in all, I think this website provides a fair review and comparison. It’s good to be conscious of perception, but i wouldn’t let it influence how the site fundamentally conducts its reviews.

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