I didn’t fly, I wasn’t well served

August 19, 2018

Given I live in the UK and have a preference for One World I spend a lot of time on BA flights; although my loyalty card is with American Airlines approaching five million mile status. As a very (for which read too) frequent traveller I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with them. The first class check in at Heathrow Terminal 5 means I get four minutes from airport arrival to the first G&T in the lounge even on an economy ticket. I’ve had some of the best ever service of any airline from their staff, but I’ve also being humiliated (Are you the diabetic in a very loud voice in the first class cabin on a flight to Japan) and there are times when it feels like its my privilege to be allowed to fly with them. Several years ago, on a late arrival for a flight to South Africa, one agent bureaucratically tried to refuse me access (on a flight which was already delayed so there was time) while the adjacent one winked at me and got me checked in and on the plane; mind you the luggage didn’t make it. The contrast of that experience really illustrates the Jekyll & Hyde character of the self declared World’s favourite airline. Although the headline here references their motto: To fly, to serve.

Today in Sydney we saw Mr Hyde or maybe not so evil, more a well meaning David Brent. Now I want to be helpful here so I spent time during the experience looking at the process and treating the problem as if I was a consultant/ethnographer looking at it from a knowledge management perspective – I do have some reputation in that area. But first the events, then my comments, then the platitudes I got from the BA twitter account. I’ll also update tomorrow if there is any material change on the way they handle things getting us back to London.

Sequence of events 18th August 2018

Note: the timings may not be exact as I didn’t keep detailed notes but the end point saw me arrive in the Holiday Inn at Darling Harbour five hours after the planned departure.

  1. BA16 loaded on time for a 1450 departure to Singapore. I’d had a six hour layover in the lounge after coming in from an early morning flight from Wellington and was returning home after four and a half weeks travel involving a full Round the World flight preceded by a three day trip to Bangkok.
  2. After about half an hour we were told there were issues with something used to start the engine.  Over the next hour or so this became more serious and it turned out there was a hydraulic issue and BA had no spare parts but planned to borrow one from Emirates.  By the time it arrived, was fitted and tested the crew would be out of time and not allowed to fly so we would have to be offloaded.  We were told that hotels and rebooking were being arranged and there would be a short delay while they sorted things out with the Australian Border Force.
  3. I was subsequently told that there had been a dispute between the Captain and the Ground Staff – the latter saying they could do the repair with us on the plane, the former saying no but I don’t know if this is true or not – but it needs to be checked.
  4. It took a lot longer, the best part of an hour but we were then deplaned and were funnelled down a special channel of immigration although it was haphazard.  No one told us before we left the plane so several of us wasted time on the electronic passport machines.   Those of us who were in transit from other countries were not told we would be treated differently from those who had joined the fight in Australian.  But overall that worked well.
  5. Baggage claim, again the best part of an hour before we could leave.  It turned out they had to move the plane before they could take the bags off.  One frazzled BA member of staff trying to handle questions.  At this point I started to tweet as no one knew what was happening.
  6. I was lucky in that my bags came off early and I was at the head of the queue that formed at the table set up to handle passengers.  This was directly opposite the exit from the baggage claim and it very quickly got clogged with people trying to work out where the queue for BA was (well we were mostly British and we like things to be ordered) getting confused with people disembarking from many other flights.  
  7. There was no triage, some passengers were trying to book on alternative flights and the BA staff were using mobile phones to try and deal with that.  Some people only needed a taxi voucher to go home, others of us just needed to be told which hotel to go to.  But we were all in the same queue which became longer and longer.   The banner picture shows the queue in its early stages of formation.  The header photo the few frantic staff at the head.  It took half an hour from the vantage of that picture to get allocated a hotel.
  8. Having got the hotel I was told the pick up was outside by McDonalds.  It wasn’t it was someway away but a few of us headed for what looked like some buses and a wonderful Chinese driver welcomed us, looked after the bags and showed unfailing good humour before dropping us off at the hotel.
  9. Checkin at the hotel was OK and we were given a $50 hotel credit for food.  No information about compensation rights but the promise of a coach pickup tomorrow.

NOTE added on return to the UK: When we finally departed Monday we got a different story. Apparently the hydrolic pump on the right engine had failed incoming and had required special facilities on landing. Wondering why we were even loaded?


Now this isn’t the worst experience I’ve had. American Airlines loosing a engine on take off, another aborted BA flight to Philly and a TAP emergency landing on the Canary Islands en route to Caracas were all worse but I keep hoping that there will be learning but there isn’t. Every step becomes a linear process for all with poor information, confused process and ill trained staff.

So what could they have done?

At its heart all that it is needed is attention to information, using multiple channels and proper triage. None of this is difficult, most of it can be codified so here we go. And just to be clear all of this is © Cognitive Edge Pte Limited 2018 but I grant a license to BA or anyone else if they will only improve things and they give a reasonable donation to something like Change for Good. But I don’t really expect things to change.

  1. There was more than enough time to create a basic step by step briefing as to what was happening before we left the plane.  In particular that there would be a special immigration line. This could have been provided to staff on the plane and read out.  It would have been simple for the flight crew to check everyone understood it before disembarking,
  2. On disembarkation a simple triage queue (pre-announced) splitting people into (i) only need taxi vouchers to get home (ii) those who need a hotel and happy to come back tomorrow (iii) those who want to rebook today if possible (iv) those who want to cancel their flight.  All bar (iii) could be processed in one to two minutes by most staff and then moved on.
  3. If not at that point, then in baggage claim where people were milling around with nothing to do for almost an hour in a designated area of the baggage hall without crowding.
  4. Deploy the crew of the flight as additional resource – they were still on shift had some relationship with the passengers and could have helped with direction, handing out hotel vouchers or just generally showing some humanity.
  5. Critically train the Cabin Service Director to manage these events from the passengers perspective – they can link with the ground crew, manage their own staff and generally smooth things over.  In my experience they all have good people skills and manage complex situations.  The sort of narrative work we do on lessons learnt (from the US Army to Development projects) can provide support to both training and deployment.  
  6. Basic signage at all points – laser printers are readily available as is masking tape.  Notices like  BA16 here or BA16 Holiday Inn bus here and so on would be good and simple to produce.
  7. Handouts at the baggage claim with passenger rights and process for claims identified.  Get some lessons learnt feedback from passengers there and then – it would be valuable and would show you care.
  8. Some assistance to families and children, and frail elderly passengers.  This was really bad with no one even thinking about it and just letting people stand or give up their place in the queue for some rest.  Again this is something the crew could have done.
  9. If you are going to have people sort things out after collecting baggage and clearing customs then create clear channels (per triage above) for the different groups away from the main traffic areas in the airport.  have some drinks available and also seats or wheelchairs for the longer queues.   
  10. Even better give people queue numbers as early as possible so they can take a break and be seen in priority order
  11. Given there were some free places on later Qantas flights they could have sorted that out for high status flyers and/or emergency cases (one women’s job was at stake) before we even got off the plane.
  12. Use social media to communicate, create a hashtag – most people had smart phones and they could be have been told what was going on easily
  13. Then an unlucky 13: don’t allow your social media response to spout platitudes – more senior staff should have been brought in much earlier,

Now I may come up with more – that is just a brainstorm but the final one leads into …

The social Media response

This more or less speaks for itself – nothing but platitudes, trying to say everything was OK when it wasn’t and I for one was irritated enough to give most people the feed to a web site that will help them make compensation claims as a result. I and other experienced travellers could have been roped into help, not fobbed off.

You’ll see one other passenger chiming in:

ᗪᗩᐯᕮ SᑎOᗯᗪᕮᑎ (@snowded)

19/08/2018, 07:48

You would think @British_Airways could at least tweet or email so we all know what is going on. No sign of bags on cancelled BA16 ex Sydney

British Airways (@British_Airways)

19/08/2018, 07:55

@snowded Hi Dave, we can see the BA0016 is awaiting a rescheduled time of departure. Please speak to our ground staff about collecting your bags and for any immediate queries in the meantime. ^Gareth

ᗪᗩᐯᕮ SᑎOᗯᗪᕮᑎ (@snowded)

19/08/2018, 07:58

@British_Airways There is a long queue and I dare say there will be when we get out of the baggage hall and try and find out about hotels etc. My point was you could use email or social media to make life easy for everyone including your own staff

British Airways (@British_Airways)

19/08/2018, 08:18

@snowded We appreciate your feedback about the way we’ve communicated the delay, Dave. A lot of decisions are made at a local level and it’s easier to deal with the situation in person with those affected and who remain within the airport. ^Gareth

ᗪᗩᐯᕮ SᑎOᗯᗪᕮᑎ (@snowded)

19/08/2018, 08:31

@British_Airways No queuing system on exit for hotel details etc only two staff on and you’ve had hours to get ready. I sort of expected a separate queue for business/emerald as well. Free for all not helping morale

British Airways (@British_Airways)

19/08/2018, 08:37

@snowded We’re very sorry that you haven’t been prioritised, Dave. Hotel vouchers will be issued as quickly as possible. You can also check for updated flight information here: ba.uk/nDudIt ^Gareth

ᗪᗩᐯᕮ SᑎOᗯᗪᕮᑎ (@snowded)

19/08/2018, 08:48

@British_Airways Queue for you, it’s way back to the Big Mac sign and not moving pic.twitter.com/FDYVQIQZdJ

ᗪᗩᐯᕮ SᑎOᗯᗪᕮᑎ (@snowded)

19/08/2018, 08:49

@British_Airways And the front of the queue. No one processed in the last twenty minutes pic.twitter.com/CBc6TWK1lk

British Airways (@British_Airways)

19/08/2018, 08:57

@snowded Hi Dave, all available resources are being used to assist customers in the terminal. We appreciate you’re frustrated and you can be assured that we always formally review the handling of a significant flight delay. ^Gareth

ᗪᗩᐯᕮ SᑎOᗯᗪᕮᑎ (@snowded)

19/08/2018, 10:05

@British_Airways Given I have acknowledged expertise in complex decision making and knowledge transfer I can assure you that while you may have deployed resources they were very poorly organised. Triage totally absent. The blog post I am writing you can take as free consultancy, will link

British Airways (@British_Airways)

19/08/2018, 10:30

@snowded Hi Dave, we do appreciate your comments and understand how frustrating this is. We’re very sorry for the inconvenience caused to your journey. ^Sophie

Dave Petley (@davepetley)

19/08/2018, 11:30

@British_Airways @snowded We were on BA16 too (& are in Dave’s photo of the queue). We also found the handling to be a farce. Why say the bags will be out in 15 mins when you have to move the aircraft first? The queue for hotels etc was ridiculous. And no-one mentioned EC261, even once. Poor show BA.

British Airways (@British_Airways)

19/08/2018, 11:36

@davepetley @snowded We’re so sorry that you were disrupted. Please DM more information so we can look into this for you, Dave. ^Ash

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