Just back from a week in NY, half business, the other half, with the other half, Kate, to celebrate her special birthday. Fantastic time apart from a turbulent start to the trip, blogged below after Zoe, a good MySpace friend asked me to in an e-mail exchange, so:
With my journalist hat on, I always strive to big up, rather than bitch down, in regard to my Pop-Culture/general life musings. Regular readers of my columns know I regularly prefer to praise showering such on people/companies like Innocent drinks, YouTube, Ebay, Google & Yahoo, quirky characters like 'Best Of Luck To You' man, Phil aka Mr. Sinner Winner, real life Spiderman Alain Robert, John Peel, & numerous magazines, films, TV shows, clubs/cities etc. etc. all rated, never hated.
However at times a true critic's duty must surely be to highlight flaws and faults (in a subject) that encourages potential improvement. Hackers do this often as a career choice, showing holes in a system's security and then if that hacked 'n' attacked company is smart, it hires said hacker to work on continuous improvement of their (security) system(s) - i.e. 'Kaizen', a business buzz word I picked up on in NY.
Suggestion boxes & constant 'How are we doing? Let us know' feedback forms don't and can't always rely on praise; that's why they ask for comments good and bad. In similar fashion, (self)-blogging is just a new form of giving feedback and hopefully here, BA will act and respond, if they do I'm more than happy to modify this entry.
After BA lost my luggage on a DJ trip to Barcelona in December (finally returning it after about 45 days), I thought I'd give them another chance, despite the usual frustrating on-line form filling and endless automated phone/e-mail responses endured. So, tickets were booked on BA173 to New York, Saturday 24 Feb.
Kate & I had checked in on-line, 24 hours previously and were at the Boarding Gate over an hour before take off. With backs to the boarding gate & loads of people waiting for a different flight, we possibly may have let time slip slightly, nevertheless, about 15 minutes before departure we walked up to the gate (we'd only been sitting about 10 feet away), with last call still on the screens.
BA staff told us off like naughty school children emphasising how late we were and that they'd given us a personal final call over the speaker system. Being a DJ , familiar with shout-outs, I'd have picked up one one going out to me (!). However, within seconds of trying to reason with BA staff, we were told, like that belligerent bouncer's immortal line (& classic rave toon), 'Your name's not down, you're not coming in' - so we wouldn't be allowed to board the plane. At this point I should add that several BA staff I spoke to during the trip told me that it would have been possible to board even at this stage. The flight took off 10 minutes late and when we looked on the screens then and 20 minutes later, it was still showing 'Last call'.
So, stressed and angry, we'd missed our flight and wanted to try and catch another one ASAP. BA staff then proceeded to be so rude and unhelpful, they made Carol Beer (a hilarious comedy character from 'Little Britain' sketch show - who acts bored & totally unfriendly with occasional deadpan 'Computer Says No' catchphrase when asked for assistance) seem like Mother Theresa.
Talking of all things holy, when I blogged about 'Church' (the 'Record & Tape Exchange' shops which I worship, hence the name!), a Time Out reader 'Phil Pessera' set a challenge to find any franchise with ruder staff than the 'Record & Tape Exchange' shops. If that challenge is still open, BA must win, hands down; at least church staff have a sense of humour, knowingly joking about their rudeness and have been seen to help as well as smile. BA? Bad Attitude? B ehh?!? No way. Rudeness and 'Computer Says No' attitude seem to be an all-important job qualification here.
As we were bounced from counter to counter, flight transfers, baggage re-claim, numerous Customer service desks, the glum patronising mind-set from BA prevailed and not once were we offered a sincere apology or positive help. We reached another ticket services desk and the lady there, refused to give me her name for reference despite wearing her name on her coat badge; I just couldn't see it clearly. When I went to look closely, she carefully hid it from view. Again, with journalist hat on, I try to avoid 'naming and shaming' people, only praising/naming the helpful. This unhelpful lady, did finally concede her first name (starts with 'C') saying she was one of 3 staff with that as a first name and that this ticket desk only dealt with 1st class passengers; great, thanks for the cryptic clue, where do I go for the next one?
Onto another ticket desk where a lady (first name starts with 'T') told us, after we explained our situation, that 'BA don't single people out, but we had been warned to expect you' from notes on their computer. Possibly bored or faced with a situation that involved help/work, 'T' referred us to commercial manager Dean Williams. Now Dean was the 1st of 3 helpful heros in this saga (!) Initially Dean said the only thing he could do was get us on a flight to Newark airport the next day, leaving 8PM, otherwise anything earlier would be an additional cost. However things changed when Dean clocked my BlackBerry, asking if I was recording our conversation as he had notes from 'C' that I was a reporter. I said I was not recording the conversation but was reporting it by taking notes. Dean quickly found a flight to Newark leaving the next morning (BA0185). So back home via the Heathrow Express, some comfort food from Harry Morgan's but no caring customer comfort available from BA.
Next morning, checked in early again with eagle-eyed Kate alarmed and upset to see her boarding pass marked 'NFSU' and 'Abusive'. Don't know what the NFSU stood for (answers on a BA ticket stub pls. to 'Customer Sympathy' at this address) but pretty sure what 'Abusive' means. We went to see the 2nd of 3 BA heros, Philip Welch at Customer Service who was equally surprised by the printed profiling and re-issued the boarding card, as well as ensuring us that he would try and better our outbound seats.
On mentioning Phil's offer to several BA 'Customer Service Agents' before boarding and on-board, 'Computer Still Said No'; the seats remain the same.
Now, I must hasten to add, I'm not taking this personally, it was as entertaining watching other customers getting BA bollockings - one businessman told off for leaving some newspapers on the floor before landing, another rebuked for innocently taking a picture of the plane he was about to board - "Security reasons" he was told. That got me thinking - at what point does taking a photo of a plane become a security risk? Is it safe doing it from say, the window of the departure lounge? What about a snap of the clouds from the window when on the plane? Are plane-spotters, who often mount their tripods (not literally of course!) in nearby airport car parks, eager to snap take-offs and landings, technically a risk and therefore illegal in their covert operations. How about taking a picture of a BA plane in the comfort of my own home, assuming I live near the airport? If a terrorist was planning something terrible, why would he take a picture of a plane? Would he actually need to take a picture, how about a mental image?
There's an old cheesy mantra, (possibly born in the rave era?) that states, "It's nice to be important but it's more important to be nice", clearly something practiced by BA's Debbie Collis-Bugg (pictured right), the 3rd and final hero, a saviour who showed smooth runnings after the NY trip's turbulent take-off - unprompted, she upgraded Kate and myself.
If there's one thing BA's consistently great at being (apart from phenomenally rude), it's inconsistency - told one thing, finding out this is not always fixed/true e.g. Dean Williams managing to find a flight when everyone else said, "Computer Says No", being told upgrades not possible when we saw several on the way out and were upgraded ourselves on the way back et cetera.
Google results from 'British Airways Sucks' generated over 140,000 results when I tried around 5PM on Saturday 3rd March and subsequently, complaint sites and blogs like this one, where consumers let off hot-air about their bad experiences from the airline come as no surprise; I've yet to find similar blogs for other airlines.
BA has quite a history of strange customer relations, everything from the infamous 'Dirty Tricks' strategy where Sir Richard Branson quite rightly came out victorious after BA tried persuading flyers NOT to fly Virgin in a very underhand way. Come to think of it, why am I not flying Virgin anymore or any other wide choice of airlines for that matter? I have only ever had 100% pleasure flying Virgin in the past and Sir Richard totally rocks (sped-read his updated auto-biography during my trip). Maybe I've been suckered by the whole BA Air Miles card, irrelevant really when a trip sours.
More recently, aside from the strikes and lost luggage/delays due to fog (where, according to the Daily Mail, BA profited from the misery), the airline has now come up with a friendly extra baggage allowance, yes folks for about 240 UK pounds, you too can pay for another bag to accompany you on your flight.
In these respects BA is flying miles above its competition which again, got me thinking - a marketing opportunity. BA can try and rectify bad feedback or maybe re-brand itself along the lines of 'S + M' Airways, a masochistic airline that prides itself on passenger abuse - a sort of 'Fight Club' for clientele who get high on being treated apallingly. That's it 'S+M' - "We can't be beat, we do the beating". Niche marketing perhaps but the 'long tail' phenomenon is the current zeitgeist and look, 'HootersAir' had topless air-hostesses (sadly no longer!), now BA can also get kinky and literally crack the whip - "Fasten that seat belt, you're strapped in until we say you can unbuckle." "British Nightmare-ways, 20,000 ft. up, no one can hear you scream (!) etc."
Ultimately, missing the flight wasn't the problem; how BA subsequently handled its Customer Relations/Service was.
As for the NY trip itself, lots of chilling, bit of man-flu (!), controlled shopping - went in to loads of record shops leaving empty-handed (phew!), sushi at Ginza, hooked-up with Hayeon/SonyBMG and some old mates like Jonny Boston and (pictured left) Jon Clements (forgot what damn deep taste this fine man has in music when he whisked me off to 'Other Music'), a visit to the Guggenheim (which Kate did have to drag me to) for the 'El Greco/Spanish Painting exhibition' which I enjoyed immensely with some fine works on display from the masters Picasso and Dali that I hadn't seen before. Just missed out on 'Zodiac', getting a massive yes-yes review in fine free publication 'The Village Voice'.
Of course plenty quick snatches of TV; glad to see Marty Scorsese finally get his Oscar(s) and also voice-over king, the don, Don LaFontaine also appearing on the Oscars as well as in a hilarious Geicko ad. (not to be confused with Hal "In a world" Douglas hunt out Hal in the trailer for Jerry Seinfeld's 'The Comedian - the f*cking funniest!!) Weirdest viewing was ABC's unbelievably over the top dramatic e-x-c-l-u-s-iv-e!! coverage of Anna Nicole's funeral preparations on Entertainment Tonight. That whole deep voice-over 'When we return....what Anna will be wearing in her coffin' and 'Previously on Entertainment Tonight with Anna Nicole, the real insight behind the funeral plans, who's been invited....' etc. reached new levels in celebrity prying.
So was it really 2 years ago since I was last in the Big Apple? Man, I really love NY, again, it's that whole 24/7 buzz, endless eye-candy, restaurants, shops, the in-your face consumerism which soon seeps over the atlantic. I remember late 90s coming over to film a DMC Mixing Championship, at that time it was the obligatory "dot com" on every car, TV ad etc. Few trips later, it was the Crackberry, this time round I'm noticing everything becoming seriously so self-serviced e.g E-ZPass on the tolls, the self-service receipt just a touch away in the Fed-Ex Kinkos where I drafted this blog on 641 Lexington Avenue. Bring on the self-service side-walk deli's where you go in, a guy points out the food and you just make it yourself right there + then; actually that's pretty much where it's at now!
Must dash, radio beckons, can't miss tonight's flight..........
From: James Gulperin
Sent: Monday, March 05, 2007 3:43 PM
To: James Hyman
BA suck goats bigtime.....leftist, arrogant, militant, surly, moody, chippy, patronising, deliberately unhelpful and misleading, expensive and overated...and they treat their staff not far off from how the Spartans treated their boy loverz...if there was an example of a modern feudal system in airlines...BA have it all....especially when compared to the flawless OWO kings Southwest Airlines and fancy-a-quickie-in-the-dunnie Quantas...
From: James Gulperin
Sent: Monday, March 05, 2007 4:09 PM
To: James Hyman
Subject: Awards for abuse...
Forgot to mention two of my favourites:
Leslie - at Radiant Metal Platers in hackney....she calls the boss a f****** W***** to his face when people are walking around the offices. If your picking up or delivering to the door, you had best be very polite and not ring the bell more than once and not interupt her superkings 100's break...she's made hardened criminals piss their pants...and looks like a cross between sloth's mum in the goonies and grotbags from the childrens tv show. She likes me though as i caught her off guard one morning. I asked her if she got her money back....to which she replied, "Whatja meen? What munay!" to which I replied...."Your money back from charm school love" she actually smirked and called me a "cheeku c***" ....I am now her favourite :-)
Kim/Andy/Sarawat/Anyone - Won-ki chinese 4 storey food palace in soho. My favourite lines = "Sit down shud-up", So what u wan?" "Urry up wiv ur orderin, i aint got all day"..."No more tea", "toilit outsigh".
From: Milton Evensizer
Sent: Sunday, March 04, 2007 6:30 AM
To: James Hyman
Subject: Hello from California
Hi James, sorry I missed your show today but I did read your interesting blog about British Airways and your trip to NY. If I ever make it to your part of the world remind me to not fly "BA" . That sounded like a nightmare.
I've been to NY a couple of times and both times I loved it. You are right, that city is literally non-stop!! However, certain times of the year can get downright freezing and windy. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to go back and eat the pizza and pastrami sandwiches.
Yes I agree its about time Marty won an Oscar!!! The Departed was a great film. I thought Leo did an outstanding job as an actor, but I'm a Leo fan. Ever since I saw his portrayal of a mentally challenged kid in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and then saw him in an interview after the movie was released and found out that he was not mental...Well...It just blew me away. Since then, I enjoy all his movies. I was convinced that he was mental!!! The Departed's resolution was a twister for me, I never expected Leo to get a bullet in the head. The title definitely foreshadowed the final events of the film. Jack was also awesome. Actually, now that I think about it, all of the main characters were great. Rumor is there might be a second one.
Yea what did you think of (well I know what you think) all the Anna Nicole bs about the over-glamorizing of her death, funeral, the mother, and the child custody. Since her death, that has been the main news story here in the states. C'mon, these news people can't find more important stuff to talk about? The sad thing is, most people didn't even care about Anna before she died. Now everyone is talking about it including me, (but it stops as soon as I click the send button). Tonight I went to this trendy bar/restaurant and all people were talking about was her!!!
Don't they ram this down your throats over there? LOL.
From: BA Customer Relations [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, March 17, 2007 6:48 AM
To: James Hyman
Subject: Your Response from BA Customer Relations
Dear Mr Hyman
I am sorry we could not let you and your partner travel on BA0173 to New York JFK on 24 February. I can understand how you must have felt.
It is vital for our customers and for our business that we operate our services on time. If we re-open a passenger list after the published check-in time, the adjustments always take a disproportionate amount of time and we risk losing our take-off slot. So I'm afraid it's not possible to accept late-comers for travel on our flights.
I am also concerned by your account of how our staff treated you at the airport. We take pride in our standards of service, and this certainly includes courteous and helpful staff. The behaviour you describe is unacceptable and a report has gone straight to the line manager of the staff in question.
I know that this must be disappointing but I hope I have managed to explain the background.
I hope both of you will fly with us again in the not too distant future.
Executive Club Blue
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