If you saw any of our social media feeds over the weekend, you will have seen pictures of the huge queues in Heathrow Terminal 5 on Saturday morning. Even the First Wing had a huge queue at the time our pictures were taken (see bottom image below).
British Airways CEO Sean Doyle later addressed this in a vlog to staff. It is worth running through the key points – the bottom line is that you should not expect any immediate improvements as we head into Easter.
“Many of our customers are rightly fed up”
Unsurprisingly, said Doyle:
“Many of our customers are rightly fed up. I know you’re also fed up and I’m as frustrated as you are with some of the things we’ve had to deal with.”
The current British Airways issues can be broken down into three areas. If you’re planning to make a BA booking for future travel, especially if it involves a Saturday departure, you should take a view on how long these issues will take to fix before buying your ticket.
As we covered extensively at the time, British Airways used the pandemic to try to rid itself of ‘legacy’ employees on ‘above market’ pay scales. This was broadly successful, but led to many thousands of years of combined experience leaving the company.
British Airways is facing similar issues to many other organisations. With ground-based hospitality companies increasing their salaries, and without the anti-social working hours that often come with working for an airline, it isn’t easy to attract people back. We have already seen BA wet leasing aircraft from Iberia Express because it doesn’t have enough crew to operate the new Gatwick short-haul schedule.
Doyle claims that 27,000 people have applied for jobs across the airline since it actively started recruiting in October. Over 5,000 have accepted offers but only 1,200 are actually working due to notice, training and security requirements.
Doyle blames confusion over ‘Covid paperwork’ for much of the airport delays and for blockages at call centres.
This is, of course, partly true. I am flying to Amsterdam today and was surprised to find out at the last minute that I need to print off a ‘health declaration’ form. Because there is no requirement to upload this on ba.com before travel I could have been caught out during boarding.
However, BA isn’t helping itself. Courtesy of my friend Andrew, here is a comparison of BA vs easyJet pre-flight messaging when heading to Portugal (the easyJet example is a few weeks old so the exact Portugal information may now be wrong).
“For international flights, the Portuguese Government requires you to have proof of a negative test before you travel (PCR test done within 72 hours or Rapid Antigen test done within 48 hours before departure). Self-tests are not accepted.
Only customers with EU-DCC showing proof of recovery are exempt from the test requirement. For all flights (including domestic flights) you must also complete an online PLF before boarding, regardless of your vaccination status (https://portugalcleanandsafe.pt).
All customers travelling to mainland Portugal must go to Bag Drop to have their documents checked. Please check the latest Government requirements for full details.”
BA (this is the default email, at least on short haul, as of last weekend):
“With just three days before you head to [your destination] with us, we wanted to make sure you’re all set, and ready to fly.
You’ve probably got everything in hand, but with a few days to go its worth double-checking you’ve covered all the essentials, from entry requirements to COVID-19 tests, travel documents to face masks. From 24 hours before departure, use the British Airways app to check-in, then you can travel contact free at the airport. If you think you may have forgotten something, you’ll find all you need to know on ba.com as well as a handy final check list.”
Which passenger is most likely to arrive at the airport with the wrong paperwork?
Issues at Terminal 5
Some of the issues at Terminal 5 are outside of BA’s control.
Qatar Airways is still camping out in the terminal, taking up boarding gates and check-in desks. Terminal 4 is due to re-open, but not until July.
You could argue, of course, why British Airways is not moving more flights into Terminal 3. You could also ask why American Airlines has been allowed to move a number of flights from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 if capacity is so contrained.
In the short term, British Airways is responding by cancelling a wave of flights over the next few weeks. This will do nothing to reduce the number of people at check-in or security, assuming that everyone accepts a rebooking, but it will reduce the pressure on gates.
If you haven’t landed at Heathrow recently, you won’t know that it is now common to wait 30 minutes for a gate to become available. (I was also caught out at Terminal 3 recently on a Finnair flight so this is not exclusively a BA issue.) Once a gate is free, it is pot luck whether any staff are available to attach a jet bridge and/or to remove baggage from the hold.
Is this enough?
It is clear that BA could do more in terms of preparing passengers better for their trip, even if it meant calling everyone individually. Those people who do online check-in will already have cleared the documentation threshold so it wouldn’t require contacting every passenger.
Solving the recruitment issue is, to some extent, outside the control of the airline given legal requirements over training and security clearance. This doesn’t necessarily excuse losing so many employees in the first place.
The issues over Terminal 5 gates will ease when Terminal 4 is back, but problems over baggage handling etc will not go away if more staff cannot be found. The recent pay rise given to Menzies Aviation staff who had threatened strike action will hopefully carry across to other areas of the ‘below the wing’ operation.
As Sean Doyle said in his message:
“That’s all for now, thanks for listening, and thanks for joining us as we begin our climb to be a Better BA. Speak soon.”
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (May 2022)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards. You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.
The Platinum Card has doubled its sign-up bonus to 60,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert to 60,000 Avios, if you apply by 1st June 2022.
Run your own business?
We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,000 Avios.
You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.
There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.
(Want to earn more Avios? Click here to visit our home page for our latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios this month from offers and promotions.)