The value of a cup of coffee / by Mark Izatt

We all have brands that we want to succeed, like a favourite sports team we take failure personally.  We often turn a blind eye to their failings and then sometimes succumb to a post match rant.

British Airways is one of those brands for me.  It's apposite that the last time I blogged was back in September when the company revealed that in early 2017 they were to end all complimentary beverage and food on their domestic and short-haul international flights.

Thankfully a Club Europe flight in January after the change, or perhaps I should call it the "brand ban", meant I escaped the new "enhanced" (BA's word) option of forking out £2.20 for a cup of coffee.   But sooner or later I woud have to encounter the new austerity on-board service.

And so it was on BA1434, the Heathrow to Edinburgh "shuttle", on Friday.  My choice of flight couldn't have made the contrast more stark.  The early morning domestic shuttles have, for decades, included a hot breakfast for every passenger.

It didn't help that the flight was 40 minutes late - a factor which further underlines the failure of the "Buy On Board" to help deliver a better end-to-end customer experience but let's put that to the side. 

Whereas before an entire 767 was fed and watered from nose to tail in 45 minutes this is what we got;

- embarrassingly awkward explanation of the "enhanced" food option from a cabin crew who should get a medal for following the corporate "line" 

- told to look at a glorified "Marks and Spencer" catalogue (let's not even dwell on why BA partnered with a tired food behemouth rather than use the opportunity to tap into a more dynamic food brand such as LEON) to make our choices.

- apologized to in advance that the new service would not be slick because they were just learning and the technology wasn't perfect

- enjoyed the spectacle of flight attendants running down the aisle with pen and pad when the aircraft had barely taken off from Heathrow soliciting hot bacon roll orders (I didn't see any takers)

- watched a fellow BA Gold Card holder across the aisle receive his cup of tea and then give it back when he was asked for payment (he wasn't paying attention during the extensive new  food briefing)

- hectic and dysfunctional crew movements

Simply put it was a miserable experience.  Turning a key service differentiator into a monitzeable transaction has chipped away at the brand proposition of British Airways so much you could feel the leaden disappointment / embarrassment in the air as we all disembarked.

Yes embarrassment.  Passengers and crew wondering what on earth had become of a once great brand grubbing about for the last passenger £.

The CEO of British Airways, Alex Cruz, is clearly a very smart man.  He knows the cost of a free cup of coffee to the airline.  He also knows the price of a cup of coffee bought by a passenger.   

What he doesn't understand is the value of that cup of coffee.  The value to the passenger, the cumulative value to the overall flight experence and the important role that this inflight amenity plays in differentiating British Airways from budget airlines.

Trust me I understand the economics of running an airline.  But this cackhanded race to the bottom could have been averted.

Charge for food and enhance the offering - fine.   Charge for alcohol on domestic - fine.   But still offer free tea, coffee, water and soft drinks.

This would have resulted in a shrug of the shoulders but still deliver a touch point which makes BA a little different against easyJet, Ryanair, Norwegian etc.    

The BA fan in me hopes they reconsider.  Commercially the new policy is failing for BA with onboard sales embarrassingly sparse but someone's loss is someone else's opportunity to win - the airport concessions are already adapting with interesting 'picnic' options.

I, for one will now BRING on board rather than BUY on board.  

There is now one less reason to fly BA.