Oh British Airways. Once advertised as the ‘World’s Best Airline’. Once the global symbol of our international standing. Once the epitome of high-class British service. Oh British Airways, just what has happened to you?
Recently, when I took a short haul Euro Traveller flight back to the UK I noticed how BA still try to cling onto the minor details of everything that once made it great, while everything else has been rolled back and stripped of individuality. Sat in my seat, I pondered how this has become a metaphor for Brexit Britain.
At a decisive moment when we may depend on BA to uphold some sort of proud, national image, the collapse of its reputation and worth is a sight that none of us need to see.
It is 12:30 on a cold Viennese afternoon. I am finally sat for my 12:40 departure on a standard Heathrow job. Around me, in traditional BA style classical music plays as passengers take their final seats.
Yes, the music is a minor and somewhat insignificant detail, but at least they have kept that.
I glance around at the cabin crew. They bear carbon-cut fake smiles that scream ‘I don’t want to be here’. And frankly, who can blame them?
These crew members, particularly younger ones, will have started off their careers dealing with the rowdy Ryanair Ibiza flights or the Jet2 Zante trips. They will have aimed for a job at BA as some sort of final goal in their promotion. Leaving behind the saving-centric budget airlines, opting instead to represent a great national institution.
But now that they have the job, they are working through the collapse in reputation of one of the world’s top airlines. On top of that, they probably have to deal with a lot of frustrated people too.
Under Alex Cruz, retrenchments to BA have been no secret.
Lets remind ourselves of the changes. First, unlike most other national airlines, you no longer get complimentary drinks or snacks in economy. Instead, in a rather gimmicky fashion you can now purchase only Marks & Spencer’s food. A fleeting attempt to cling onto its middle-class reputation as it dwindles into a low-cost airline.
Next, you have to pay at least £13 to reserve a seat. In true budget-airline style, seats at the back are cheaper — except on the likes of Ryanair they cost £11 less. If you want to sit in the front of the plane you could find yourself paying double.
Most recently comes the announcement that some short-haul flights, bearing in mind that this includes trips to North Africa, will no longer offer reclining seats.
And this week, as somewhat of an icing on the cake, it was reported that BA are planning to fly passengers with different carriers from Gatwick. Quite frankly, this ‘buy BA, get something else’ idea is the last thing the airline needs.
So BA as we know it is no more. But is this more serious than a bunch of middle-class self-indulgers kicking off because they don’t have their freebies?
I think it is.
A national airline is naturally a symbol of its nation. If that airline espouses a certain class and standard, it can only be a good thing for the reputation of the country.
Presently, Britain is scrambling to salvage its reputation in the Brexit negotiations.
The government is making ‘necessary’ cuts to relative NHS spending and social care while promising token gestures like bizarre new blue passports. Accompanying that, the pound has sunk in worth against most other major global currencies, particularly the euro.
Piece by piece the country is becoming a budget gimmick of what it once was, as others around the world look on with a sort of collective sympathy.
The collapse of British Airways’ reputation is a blindingly obvious metaphor for our own. While it may seem trivial for some, it is a sad reality. Whether this can be salvaged by a change in management is uncertain. As time progresses BA’s demise becomes inevitably less reversible.