Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Cast your vote: British Airways or Ryanair as worst airline?

I can’t decide which air company I like less. They are both really trying their best to convince me that they are the worst air company in the world but the decision is really very difficult.

Hidden charges and seats like a slab of concrete or staff that look at you like they want to spit at you and try to ruin your holiday by striking? Mmmm….strong competition.

Airlines have already been in crisis for a few years now. Ever since Ryanair and Easyjet put the cat amongst the pigeons with an entirely new lean business model with low running costs and low fares, the older established companies have struggled. For a while, before the “Great Recession” BA seemed to have found a bit of a niche with business travel charging companies extortionate amounts of money to get horizontal on a plane. But then budget cuts came and profits plunged. BA had never really tackled their enormous cost base they have been carrying since the glory days.

With fresh strikes announced for February, looks like BA’s reputation with customers will plummet to new lows.

I travelled with BA this Christmas, it was efficient, it was on time, it was roomy but the staff are snotty nosed and condescending. They are actually lucky that they didn’t get lynched by us, the poor customers, who nearly missed out on spending Christmas with relatives abroad.

But the fact that the cabin crew would rather see the company go bankrupt than take a change in working conditions, that even their colleagues in Gatwick have accepted (and frankly on the face of it, I can’t see the problem?), begs a fundamental question to me.

The BA staff aren’t living the brand are they?

They clearly don’t feel part of the future of the company or even its present. The cabin crew are the face of the company. They are the front line, the people that we, as customers, deal with. We don’t meet the marketing department, we don’t see the pilot, we see a bit too much of Willie Walsh apologising on TV but we don’t know him, a large part of the way we view the company is based on the check in staff and cabin crew.

Whatever the master plan is, whatever changes are needed in the company, and whatever the final vision is, BA must start communicating it better to their frontline staff before us the customers. If the staff don’t believe then the customers won’t. Striking staff is totally disengaged staff who don’t give a stuff about the consequences.

Here’s a company that needs a huge internal marketing job. We talk a lot about external marketing but internal marketing in an organisation of this size and with significant changes to be made, is essential. If staff don’t understand the change, they won’t support it.

So back to Ryanair. So the seats are rubbish, the staff don’t care, Michael O’Leary doesn’t care, but it’s cheap. I can live with that, it’s refreshingly honest. Where it goes wrong for me, is then ruining that clear approach with hidden charges. Bag charges, credit card charges, mysterious “expenses” lumped in with airport tax and impossibility to check in children online which means an obligatory £8 charge to check in at a desk (each). If your proposition is basic but cheap you actually do need to be cheap. And you need to be honest about the prices. I’m not saying that Ryanair won’t still be a success because they have a monopoly on certain routes and if you want cheaper, you’ll choose them, but I think that the low cost proposition is a clear one and there is just no need to wind up your own customers.

So have you made your decision? I am still debating myself….

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