Classed as a premium airline, British Airways was once regarded as classy, friendly and reliable, if somewhat old-fashioned (much like the country whose flag it carries). But is this reputation still deserved in 2022? Is British Airways a good airline?
As I’m writing this post, the UK is in turmoil, following yet another shameful resignation by a Tory PM with the country left in shambles. Perhaps it’s fitting then, that its “flag carrying airline” (now merged with Iberia and owned by a parent company based in Madrid) is also fast becoming a laughing stock. What was once billed “the world’s favourite airline”, now boasts a staggering 1.4 star rating on Trustpilot, with customers complaining about lack of customer service, an abundance of delayed and cancelled flights, lost luggage, and ruined holidays.
This post is part one of a two part series that takes a look at what it’s like to fly with British Airways in 2022, based on my own recent experience and that of others. So are British Airways good?
BA was named second worst airline in 2019…before the pandemic made it even worse. And in case you’re wondering, the worst airline was American Airlines, which I will be discussing in the second part of this series.
Why is BA so bad? Get ready to be amazed (and appalled)! Below are five reasons why you should avoid BA and their partner, American Airlines when flying internationally.
What’s it like to fly with British Airways in 2022? (TLDR)
Don’t fly with British Airways if you can avoid it. Their flights are constantly being cancelled and delayed, they frequently lose luggage ,and their booking system / website / customer service is extremely poor and frustrating. Whatever reputation they still have from when they used to be OK is underserved now.
The answer to the question “are British airways good?” is a resounding “No”.
1. British Airways have a terrible website / IT system with an awful safety record
British Airways have an awful record when it comes to IT. They are certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to travel chaos, beating covid by three whole years!
Consider, if you will, the famous outage in 2017 that affected over 75,000 passengers as hundreds of flights were cancelled. The GMB union accused BA of being greedy at the time, pointing out they’d cut hundreds of IT jobs, which it saw as the real reason behind the system failure. BA were, of course, very cagey about the cause of this disastrous event, and denied it was anything to do with slashing their IT department and outsourcing everything to India. However, another, even more serious incident was to follow, showing quite how bad their IT systems are.
In 2018, BA were on the receiving end of one of the world’s largest data breaches, which saw hackers grabbing personal and financial data of over 400,000 BA customers. To make matters worse, BA didn’t even notice this has happened for a whole two months! As a result, BA was given the highest penalty ever issued by the ICO, which would have been even higher had the ICO not taken into account the impact of Covid-19 on the travel industry when issuing the fine (the fine was issued in 2020).
So if you’re wondering if British Airways are reliable, maybe this is something to consider.
But disasters aside, anyone who’s ever tried to use the BA website to do the things that it was supposedly designed to do will have probably come across some annoying issues.
Here are some of mine:
You can’t check in online much of the time.
I’ve managed it for maybe one out of three flights. There are countless technical failures on the site and other fun BA issues that get in the way. As a result I’ve had to check in at the airport and had an awful choice of seats. 10 hours on a plane in a crappy seat where I couldn’t sleep a wink, even though I was ready to check in online as soon as check in opened. Thanks, BA!
Think it’s just me? Check out the complaints on their Twitter feed for some perspective, as sometimes customers tweet at them for help when they can’t check in.
The website can be confusing / misleading on some major issues (but it’s OK, so are their customer service staff!)
I once tried to check into a flight to the US, and was getting a weird error message about not having a visa. As a UK citizen I don’t need one, and I had paid for an ESTA, which is the thing I actually need (visa waiver). The site kept saying I didn’t have a visa and wouldn’t let me check in unless I gave it a visa number or my Green Card number. By some sort of miracle I managed to get through to their customer service team by phone and Twitter several times, but none of them were particularly helpful. Two of them said I should just go to the airport before my flight and check in then, and one even said it’s the fault of the website because it’s “old and out of date and we get a lot of complaints about it all the time”. None of them actually knew what an ESTA is, presumably because the call centre has been outsourced to a country where ESTA isn’t a thing people get. Still, a bit of training for your staff wouldn’t go amiss, seeing as they deal in travel to the US from the UK. It would help them do their job better.
The issue, by the way, which I thankfully discovered that night and not at the airport the next day, was that I’d accidentally made a typo in my passport’s expiry date, which invalidates the ESTA. I had to apply for another, which luckily I managed to do in time. I wouldn’t have been allowed on the plane if I’d followed the advice of any of the customer service reps I’d spoken to, and as it’s a mistake I’d made, I would have basically been left to rot.
The website is just embarrassingly shoddy
If you look around the site you’ll discover some nice “luxury” touches showing that not much thought was put into the site’s UX at all. For example, when you input your booking details to manage your booking, you get to click on a button saying “find another booking”, which is outright weird. I’d expect it to say “find my booking” or similar. Are we cutting corners by covering all eventualities with one button? Sometimes a piece of text ends unexpectedly, without the link it’s supposed to point you at (extra credit for that link being the check in link you need!)
The site is full of sloppy stuff like that. I’m guessing they sacked the QA and UX guys too. OK, so in the grand scheme of things this isn’t a big deal compared to their entire booking system crashing or a major data breach, but it’s hardly “premium”. Even Ryanair’s website does a better job at being customer facing.
I hear their app is just as bad, though I’ve never dared use it myself.
2. British Airways have terrible customer service
British Airways are known for their friendly flight crew, and I must say they really are very nice and professional. But anything outside the plane is a different matter altogether. Good luck trying to talk to a human when dealing with British Airways. Their (outsourced) call centre tells you they’re too busy to deal with you and hangs up on you half the time.
If you tweet at them, they tell you to provide your details in a private message, but then you have to deal with a godawful chatbot. It took me over five minutes and countless attempts to make it put me through to a human agent (I think I said “I need to speak to a human”, but YMMV). Of course, if you’re complaining about not being able to check in online, all the agent does is tell you to check in at the airport. Useless.
As mentioned above, the time I did manage to get through by phone, I was given misleading information that shows how poorly trained their customer service agents are. You basically get no help at all.
3. British Airways don’t seem to have enough staff to deal with customer issues
When my flight was delayed and I knew I was going to miss my connection, I tried to get help at Heathrow and get rerouted. I was flying to the US to attend a wedding and needed to be there on time to attend all the related events. I didn’t have the time to be stuck somewhere overnight because of BA’s bullshit. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.
The first thing I discovered was that the nearest service desk (the one I was directed to by their gate staff) was unstaffed. Not “gone for five minutes” unstaffed. Simply…unstaffed. Friendly airport employees directed me to the working BA service desk….10 minutes’ walk away on the other side of the terminal. Good thing I’m not mobility challenged, eh? Once I finished queuing up there, it turned out staff were unable to help, because the ticketing team wasn’t answering their phone. You’ll soon see why below. I then had to rush back to my gate as my flight was apparently leaving after all.
All airlines are understaffed now, but some still manage to meet a basic level of service. BA? No way.
4. British Airways leave you stranded if you miss your connection
If you’re wondering what happened: I missed my connection and got stuck overnight in Austin, TX, of course. BA ground staff were nowhere to be seen, even though I was promised by an air hostess that I’d be met by some when coming off the plane.
I had to make my way to the airport information desk and ask for directions to either the American Airlines or BA service desk. Why AA? Because thankfully I’d booked my flights through them. This meant I did eventually get some help, though not from BA. The woman literally rolled her eyes at me when I asked where BA were situated. As BA was the operating airline for this flight, it’s legally their responsibility to put me on a flight to my destination and provide me with vouchers, etc., so it’s particularly annoying they didn’t bother to show up.
Thankfully American Airlines staff at their own desk were able to help me , though that was its own nightmare, as I’ll detail in the second part of this series.
Don’t worry about me, though. Even though I missed the wedding rehearsal I was meant to attend and was stuck at a crappy hotel with a cold shower for the night, I did get an automated email from BA, “apologising” for the delay and saying they were “certain” I’d been taken care of by their staff. No mention of what to do if I’ve missed a connection or any actual assistance they could provide. I wonder what genius executive came up with this top customer retention tactic. Maybe BA should have fired them instead of the IT people they actually need.
5. British Airways have a terrible flight cancellation and delay record
Of all the reasons to avoid British Airways, this is probably the most important one.
Let’s face it, the “new normal” in travel involves plenty of flight delays and cancellations and no airline is fully immune. But where do BA rank?
If going by Google searches alone, the proliferation of searches along the lines of “Are British Airways still cancelling flights?” “Which British Airways flights are cancelled today?” and “Will British Airways cancel my flight?” would imply things are looking pretty bad for BA. It probably has something to do with this particular incident.
British Airways Trustpilot reviews support this theory. Of course, they are technically anecdotal, even though there are over 6000 of them.
Let’s look at the data, then, shall we? Check out this page detailing flight cancellations from Heathrow, BA’s hub, and see how they’re doing.
On the day my flight was delayed by two hours, causing me to miss my connection, I sat at the gate and listened to 15 different delay announcements from British Airways in the space of half an hour. Turns out 43% of their flights that day were delayed. We’re talking hundreds of flights. Today as I’m writing this, over 50% of their flights are delayed out of Heathrow. No wonder their ticketing team wasn’t answering: they were obviously overwhelmed by the many thousands of calls they were getting from irate passengers!
I used to fly with Ryanair a lot in the Before Times and was always amused by the jolly trumpet tune they played on landing. “90% of our flights landed on time last year”, the jingle would proudly announce, making me wonder whether doing 10% less than what some might view as the absolute minimum was something to be proud of. How naive I was to think a 10% delay record was an embarrassment!
That said, perhaps BA should adopt a similar tactic and commission their own jolly “we made it on time” jingle to increase customer trust. Might be a waste of money, though, seeing as they’d never actually get to play it.
In fact, while Ryanair’s cancellation record in 2022 was a mere 0.3%, British Airways were found by Sky News to have the worst flight cancellation record.
By the way, the particular flight that sparked this post was supposedly delayed because of a serious fault that required a change of planes, as part of the rudder was damaged “beyond repair” (the pilot came out and talked about something called a “no dispatch order”, which sounded pretty serious and scary to my untrained ears). After sitting around for two hours, it turned out the plane was fine after all. Another IT failure? I wonder why all the other flights were delayed that day. Surely there weren’t “serious faults” in all their other planes too, right? I suppose I should be happy we didn’t crash into the sea and die in a fire like the UK economy, but that’s a pretty low bar for an airline, even one flying the British flag.
But wait, there’s more!
My nightmare, and this saga continue in the upcoming second part of this post: British Airways & American Airlines: a Match Made in Hell
If you’ve enjoyed reading about my travel hell with British Airways, then you’ll also love reading my post about how trip.com ruined my holiday. It’s doing pretty well on Google, though, so you may have already read it!