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Oh British Airways – another week, another week of bad press. This time it was the Daily Mail (I know…) reporting recently that the UK flag carrier is set to lose its current 4 star Skytrax rating, downgrading the airline to 3 stars. That is the the same rating as Ryanair.
I’ve asked the question before as to whether BA is really any better than Ryanair these days, and it seems I’m not the only one raising the point. Skytrax ratings are very far from being perfect, so take the star rating itself with a pinch of salt, but there can’t be much doubt that it feels like BA has gone downhill over the last few years.
I think there are two key elements to this general sense of decline: perception and reality.
Focusing on perception, it’s indisputable that BA gets bad press. Just type ‘British Airways’ into the Google news search on any given day and you’ll see something like the below:
Headline after headline of cuts, downgrades, strikes, failures, delays, cancellations, etc.
Complaining is a bit of a national hobby (for the media at least), and it tends to be the institutions, companies and organisations that we retain (misplaced?) affection for that get the worst treatment. It’s inevitable that all the negative coverage impacts perception over time.
The real question then, is whether the bad press is fair or not. In the case of BA, I think you’d have to agree that some of it is. At the very least, it would be fair to say that a lot of the headlines are self-inflicted and could be avoided.
For example, British Airways organised a big PR event a couple of months ago (which InsideFlyer attended). This was a great idea and airline did a genuinely good job, garnering some positive headlines for a change. Great work… until later the same week, when CEO/Chairman Alex Cruz started speaking (seemingly off the cuff!) to a journalist about cutting complimentary food and drinks on long-haul flights. You could argue that his candour is refreshing I suppose…
My favourite recent British Airways ‘PR triumph’ though was Mr Cruz’s, utterly bewildering, decision to don a high visibility jacket during the IT meltdown a few weeks ago – from inside the risky confines of what appeared to be a call centre.
I’ve worked with people who proffer advice like that, and unless they happen to be script writers for The Thick of It or W1A, you learn very, very quickly not to listen to them. The only thing someone in Alex Cruz’s position should be doing with people like that is firing them.
(The kicker is that if you google “Alex Cruz high visibility”, the second result is BA’s own Press Centre, offering the image above!).
What do you think – could BA’s PR problems be solved with better advice, or do the real issues run deeper?