Thursday, 25 August 2016

What's happened to British Airways? Long-haul Economy review



British Airways - the supposed flag carrier for Great Britain in the air. It was once known for its sophistication, style, class and world-beating service. In my opinion, however, something's gone badly wrong.
I understand recent years have seen the company financially stretched, as well as the merger with Spanish airline Iberia and some kind of austerity measures, but this should in no way affect paying customers.

I rarely give super bad reviews on my blogs or YouTube vlogs, so when I do you should know that the offending subject really, truly deserves it.

Let me put a question out to you right away (answers in the comments below). When you pay good money (£1,000) on a long-haul flight, what's the minimum you expect from this package? I'm asking because I've started to doubt what the answer should be and want to gauge opinion. Is it good service? Is it good food and entertainment? Or do you simply expect a seat to park your bottom for 12 hours from London Heathrow to wherever, no frills attached?

Maybe the answers will give me a reality check, but the minimum I'd expect from an airline, having parted with this amount of cash, is a clean environment.

The story starts earlier this year. As you may know, for personal and professional reasons I'm back and forth to Brazil, where I also have a home, quite regularly. There are a number of airline choices that I could make for this route from my home in Edinburgh. There's BA, Air France, Tam, Lufthansa, Tap, KLM, and I could even go via North America if I wanted a longer journey, to name just some of the possible options. Invariably, I usually make my choice based on best price, but not always. The notion that BA's a British, predominantly English-speaking service (doh! Aren't they all!) flying from British airports - and that this somehow makes it more convenient - sometimes sways my decision.

My return flight schedule was as follows: out to São Paulo in February, return in June. The leg out started bad. I chose the very front row of the Economy seats - the one where the toilets are in front of you - bearing in mind BA uses its aged fleet of 747s for this route. This row gives you more legroom but less arse room, if that makes sense, while the entertainment unit is attached to a retractable pole-thingy that comes out in front of you.





My entertainment unit was broken and wouldn't switch on, despite several efforts by cabin crew to reset it. On a 12-hour flight, I refused to accept this, so duly complained. There wasn't a single empty seat in Economy, while Premium Economy was empty. At first, aircrew staff refused my suggestion of an upgrade, knowing that moving seats within Economy wasn't an option. They said that, unfortunately, I'd just have to stay put. But after a couple of boring hours I demanded to speak to the chief cabin crew master who, not wanting this Economy class problem to become a mid-air spectacle, quickly told his colleagues to shift me up to Premium Economy. I was miffed at having to insist as much as I did, but don't blame staff. Presumably this is BA policy and rules are rules, but in the circumstances I don't think they could have possibly rejected my advances.

That was a small incident and, to be honest these things happen with technology. No big deal. The return journey, however, left me quite shocked.


Again, Economy class was packed. My wife and I took our seats, this time at the back, to be met by the gruesome sight of our seating area. Not only were the seats themselves dirty and covered in shards of shattered plastic, but the back of the seat in front, and the fold-out food trays, were absolutely disgusting. Old food/drink and, what looked like vomit, was caked all over the place – including on the sidewall of the aircraft. But worse, the air ventilation outlets above our heads were totally and utterly clogged with dust and other gunk - so much so that it rained down on our heads every time the plane bumped with turbulence. I had a look around and, the seats in front and to out side weren't too much better.





Above are the pictures. Perhaps you'll disagree (comments below), but in my view it was an appalling scene. Economy class is what it is, but this goes back to my question: what should be the minimum requirements? Surely, for long haul flights, a clean environment is the base line. It's not as if £1,000 is a small amount of money that shouldn't at least buy you cleanliness.

I complained on Twitter from my seat before even taking off. The response was: the scene as depicted in my photos "wasn't right" and that I should take it up with cabin crew staff.

I only saw the response when we'd landed in London so it was too late to take up their advice, but in any case I kind of object to their suggestion. The cabin crew on this journey were superb but, with a busy and bumpy flight, were working at a solid pace during the flight. And I was to tell them to clean my whole seating area in front of everyone? It seemed like unjustifiably dumping the blame on hard working long-haul flight crew rather than acknowledging a deeper problem. I also felt fobbed off. 

So I'd carried on through the flight, watching, eating and sleeping in filth. Eating a meal with all of this staring at you from a distance of about 1ft is off-putting, let me tell you.

When you board a return flight in far-off destinations, airlines may be able to say that the mess was caused during the outward journey and they couldn't get the plane cleaned as easily for the return leg as they might at their 'home' airport. It's a flimsy excuse, but I can understand it. Not that this excuse was offered by BA. In any case, the dirt in this 747, certainly from the air vents, hadn't just been from the outward flight. This was mess accumulated over weeks.

As I say, I'm not sure what we should expect as long haul travellers in Economy class. I certainly never complain at the food or legroom, as I know what to expect in those departments, but having parted with a not- insignificant sum of money in exchange for those seats, I at least expect a clean place to sit for half a day.

As I pointed out at the top, BA should be reminded of all the different airlines that fly similar routes and, it’s not even the cheapest as it happens. Not by a long shot. In search of a clean cabin, perhaps my money will go to the French, the Germans or the Dutch the next time I cross the Atlantic.

I've flown BA for years, am an 'Executive Club' (ppffffff) card holder, and have been mostly satisfied with their service, but my most recent experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth.


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Footnote: BA took Team GB's triumphant athletes home From Brazil to London, and they seemed to love the service, so perhaps it just depends...


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