Downgraded: Teamwork, Wine, and Cost-Savings on British Airways
Management vs. labor (or labour, if you will) on British Airways is getting nastier. Take this quote, for example: “No-one is doing anything to help save costs any more. Whereas we used to keep unfinished bottles of wine in first-class to save money, now they’re routinely poured down the sink.” Pouring good wine down the sink? That’s a sin!
Downgraded: Traveling Value, Thanks to Fees
Delta upped its checked baggage fee again. $8 more for the first bag (now $23), and $7 for the second bag (now $32). And that’s if you pay your fees online. If you wait until you show up at the airport, add another $2 ($25 total) for the first bag and another $3 ($35 total) for the second. What I don’t understand is this: The policy is effective today, January 12, for anyone who purchased tickets on or after January 5. But the policy was only announced on the 11th. How is this legal, especially in light of the DOT “crackdown” on post-purchase changes to the contract of carriage? I smell a rat.
Upgraded: Travel for People with Nut Allergies
Travelers with nut allergies may soon find a nut-free-zone on Canadian airlines. Complaints filed against Air Canada yielded the ruling, which requires the airline to create a buffer zone within 30 days of the early-January ruling. What other cordoned-off areas will we see on planes now?…
Downgraded: The One-Way Ticket Myth
Mythbusting on the details: Umar Abdulmutallab, the crotch bomber, did not travel to Detroit on Christmas Day on a one-way ticket, despite nearly every major news organization’s reports to the contrary. He might have set off a thousand other warning flags if the data mining and information sharing within the US security community were up to full speed, but a one-way ticket was not one of those flags.
Upgraded: Jokes about TSA drug use
Jimmy Fallon: “Four TSA workers at LAX were videotaped snorting drugs. It was the first time people had ever seen lines go that fast at the airport.” Hey-ohhhh…
The court ruled that the strike was illegal, on the basis of “balloting errors” in the union’s voting.
But the problems aren’t over for British Airways, and a new strike is quite likely in February if labor and management can’t come to an agreement. Once the holidays are over, the real fun begins. British Airways customers should be aware of that strike risk, going forward.
So where does this leave the passengers who canceled, rebooked, or otherwise changed their holiday travel plans because of the strike? Many passengers opted for a refund rather than a rebooking, and ended up buying new tickets on other carriers. The Guardian has a good summary of the options. One of the key takeaways is in this quote:
The airline will not be offering any special terms to those who thought they would be hit by the strike. A spokeswoman said: “We made it clear from the outset that the option we were offering ahead of any cancellation was the ability to rebook to a different date on another BA flight. As we did not make any cancellations, we did not rebook customers on other carriers. We did not encourage people to rebook on other carriers.”
I understand that position, legally, but it’s not going to go over well, from a PR perspective. The airline’s troubles will have already created a great deal of anxiety (and I’m not optimistic that the cabin crew will be at the top of their game during the next few weeks…) This just gives the flying public another reason to grumble. Smooth move, guys.
If you changed your flight to an alternative date, you might be able to switch your dates back to the holidays, if that’s your fancy. The December and January flights should be safe. If anything, they’re probably safer than any others on the BA schedule right now.
So British Airways’ cabin crews have voted to go on strike, from December 22, 2009 to January 2, 2010, with a timing designed to maximize management’s frustration. And customers booked during the peak of holiday travel are the collateral damage. Lovely.
The airline’s FAQ for rebookings gives some options, but they’re not really great:
Customers who are booked to travel between 22 December 2009 and 2 January 2010 and for 48 hours on either side of those dates who would like to take their flight at a different time can change to another BA flight departing in the next twelve months at no charge.
If a customer’s flight is actually cancelled because of industrial action, we will offer them the option to refund their ticket, rebook on to a different flight or reroute their journey on another BA flight.
Note that they’re not offering to reroute the ticket on an alternate carrier. But alas, the BA contract of carriage doesn’t mention reroutings on other carriers as an option, at all.
If you’re affected by the strike, you’ll need to contact the airline or agency who sold you the tickets. That may be a codeshare partner — British Airways belongs to the oneworld alliance, so flights may have been sold under airline codes such as American Airlines, Qantas, JAL, Cathay Pacific, or other members. If you bought from an agency, start there. If you bought from an airline, call them.
Depending on the terms of the selling airline’s contract of carriage, you might be able to negotiate a rerouting (that avoids London…), so go online, Google your airline’s contract, and look for the text on delays and cancellations. Then find alternate flight options to suggest to the agent. (I like ITA Software’s search engine or Kayak for this purpose.) Print it all out or have it on-screen, then call the seller.
Fight for it. Ask for alternatives. Don’t wait for them to offer. And do it soon. You’re going to be in line with thousands of others, who are all in the same boat. Stop reading this. Get going.
“The last bastion of decent airline customer service begins its inexorable slide towards Ryan-ism.” So writes reader Hamish in response to British Airways’ announcement that they’ll be charging a fee for advanced seat reservation, beginning October 7. If you want to book an aisle, window, or God forbid, emergency exit seat, it’ll cost you. For ANY seat, not just the most desirable ones.
The rates vary by class and distance: £10 per person for European economy, £20 on long-haul economy or short flights in business class, emergency exit row will cost £50 (bookable between 10 and four days before departure), and £60 for long haul trips in business class. No charge for first-class cabins on three-class aircraft.
This isn’t just the “preferred seating” reservation charge that many US airlines offer. It’s indeed more in line with a discount carrier like Spirit or Easyjet.
Mind you, British Airways hasn’t been very friendly in the realm of seating assignments for some time. Back in 2006, I posted about how they limited the window when you could select seats to 24 hour hours before the flight. The new policy opens that window, but at a price.
In the LA Times’ blog, Jane Engle calls out the British Airways PR spin on the fee:
Here’s how British Airways described the new fees in their e-mail to agents: “Effective Oct. 7, 2009, your British Airways customers will have more control over their seating, with our new paid seating option.” I kid you not.
That’s not far from the same language they used in 2006: The ban at the time (of all seat pre-reservations) was “designed to simplify the process of choosing a seat and give all customers more transparency and control of the seating options available on their flight.” Simpler for whom?
British Airways tried to piss on you and tell you it was raining in 2006, and they’re doing it again now. Lufthansa is looking better and better.
Upgraded: Job applications on Virgin Atlantic
The unnamed author of this complaint letter to Virgin Atlantic, who ranted against the food served on board his flight from Mumbai to Heathrow, has been offered a new job: food tester for Virgin. Call me biased, but I still like Robert P.’s letter to Midwest Airlines better. (“You have chunks in your beer.”) Hey Robert, get any job offers lately?
Upgraded: Air Canada’s forms and applications
Remember the requirement that overweight passengers on Canadian airlines need to get a doctor’s note in order to get a second seat at no additional fee? The form that doctors must fill out is priceless. It’s practically designed to make both doctor and patient uncomfortable and embarrassed. To wit:
Have your patient sit on a paper covered examination table. Rest a ruler or straightedge on the left side of patient at the widest point (hip or waist) as shown on diagram below.
Mark the touch point between the ruler and the paper as Point A. Rest a ruler or straightedge on the right side of patient at the widest point (hip or waist). Mark the touch point between the ruler and the paper as Point B. Measure the distance between Point A and Point B. Indicate this measurement above under d) Surface Measurement.
Upgraded: Extended stay hotels, again
Hilton is adding a new chain to its lineup: Home2 will be a new extended-stay brand, with an intended price point around $100 a night (less than the existing Homewood Suites brand in the Hilton family). The development cost is estimated at $70-75,000 per room. Launch locations are in Alabaster, AL, Baltimore/White Marsh, Charlotte, Elko, NV, Gadsden, AL (Alabama, again!), Jacksonville, NC (not FL); New York City, and three locations in San Antonio.
Upgraded: Ease of investing in a money-losing industry
Warren Buffett once said, “…if a capitalist had been present at Kittyhawk back in the early 1900s, he should have shot Orville Wright. He would have saved his progeny money.” Well, the assume that ol’ Warren isn’t putting money into in the new exchange-traded fund that invests in airline stocks, including 30% in non-US airlines. The symbol for the Claymore/NYSE Arca Airlines ETF: FAA. How clever. But will the folks at Proshares come up with a double-short airline ETF?
Upgraded: The return of all-business class New York-London flights
Maxjet, Silverjet, and Eos may be gone, but British Airways is bringing twice-daily all-business class flights between London and New York back to the air. The twists: 1) The service is on the smallest plane yet to fly the route, an Airbus A318. Not ’19. Not ’20. Forget ’21. ’18. 2) Instead of Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, or Stansted, this flight will use the very centrally located London City Airport, which thusfar has only been used by regional jets to short-range destinations. 3) They’ll allow wireless text messaging and e-mail on board, but not phone calls. (hat tip Jared Blank)
Airline employees in the UK have gotten canned for making derogatory comments about their airline’s passengers on Facebook.
A group of Virgin Atlantic employees criticized the airline’s jet engine maintenance, complained about cockroaches on planes, and referred to passengers as “chavs.” This led to the firing of 13 cabin crew. The airline’s statement included:
Virgin Atlantic can confirm that 13 members of its cabin crew will be leaving the company after breaking staff policies due to totally inappropriate behaviour.
Following a thorough investigation, it was found that all 13 staff participated in a discussion on the networking site Facebook, which brought the company into disrepute and insulted some of our passengers.
What are “chavs,” the non-British readers may ask?
Chav, or Charv/Charva, is a mainly derogatory slang term in the United Kingdom for a person whose lifestyle, branded casual clothing (especially if counterfeit), speech and/or mannerisms are perceived to be common, proletarian and vulgar. ‘Chav’ is often used as a stereotype to refer to white, poorly educated, aggressive youths, but youth and aggression are not the defining attributes of a ‘chav’. The term is similar to America’s ‘white trash’ stereotype.
Not to be left out, British Airways ground staff at Gatwick were also found to be using the same term to describe their passengers on Facebook. Added bonus: “They also have little time for celebrity passengers and their ire is also drawn by ‘stupid American accents.’” Delightful!
Complaining about customers is the great pastime of thousands of workers. Witness websites like NotAlwaysRight.com. But participants in those sites tend to be more careful — no names are named. By doing this on Facebook, Virgin and BA employees were sticking their necks out there.
These are not exactly positive model employees, clearly. Having said that, is criticizing the company a firing offense? The cabin crew may have been perfectly pleasant with their passengers, while they seethed quietly inside. So should the company have fired them for something they did in their free time?
The question goes to you: Did the company go too far in firing these crewmembers for the comments they made online? Or does the employee’s obligation to maintain decorum extend to the online space?
Hit the comments!