Brewer's Droop #270

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This is for my mate John, a serious frequent flier, who reckons more of us should be making a fuss about the cost and quality of travel – especially the airlines – and I wholeheartedly agree.

Remember the time when, if you had an economy seat to Europe, you’d get the following “gift bag”? It contained moisturiser, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, a wet wipe, facial mist, sleep socks (slippers) and other things all inside a rather attractive pouch (I still have a few).

But before you could examine what was in there a smiling, radiant hostess would hand you a hot towel so you could get nice and cosy (they repeated that before and after breakfast too).

There was more leg room and you could get just about any drink you wanted – from beer to whisky. There were blankets and extra pillows and everything was clean.

I just caught a flight back from London to Cape Town on British Airways. Now I thought that SAA had the monopoly on appalling service but this was my experience on BA.

Firstly, at Heathrow, you have to walk about 20 miles to get to the boarding gate – you’d think they could do something about that wouldn’t you?

The staff were friendly and polite as we boarded but they’ve learned a neat little trick – as soon as the plane’s in the air they disappear. Just like that.

First they brought the drinks trolley – an hour after take off – but the choice was sadly limited.

They resurfaced again another hour later to serve food after handing out the specially ordered (and pre-paid – see below) trays – vegetarian, gluten free, vegan, lactose free and one where you just get an empty plate for those on a serious diet (some time after take off) and then eventually it’s your choice which is “Chicken or Vegetarian?”

How did “Vegetarian” get in there? That’s a “special request” surely. But I figured it out – it’s to make more money.

By this time you’ve been in the air for more than two hours – one drink, basically no service (the bell was probably out of order). Nothing.

Then the staff disappear again.

So I look for my “gift bag”. There isn’t one. They’ve stopped that. No toothpaste. No cream. No wet wipe. No hot towel. Nada. Not a thing. A BA accountant has figured out that they can make 75 cents more per passenger per flight that way.

So I turn on the TV. It’s broken. Not just my set but everyone’s on the plane. Someone makes a terse announcement to say the entertainment system isn’t working (duh) and that they’re “working on it” (which boggles the mind – where are “they” working? Under the plane on their backs or on top outside adjusting the aerial)?

In fact the pilot hardly speaks to the passengers at all. On this flight I doubt he said more than ten words.

However, the accountants really hit the jackpot with these ideas. Firstly, you can pre-book your seat otherwise you spend 11 hours next to the lavatories. Booking fees range from R450 to R1,500 each way. What a beautiful scam.

Then you can pay extra for a better meal – served quickly, before the other peasants. That can cost about R250. Those would be the trays that were being handed out earlier then – and there were quite a large number of them.

So your “economy” ticket is escalating quickly, I mean really quickly – mind you, a business class seat is more than three or four times that of an economy one. And, truthfully, they’re not much better than the old “economy” seats were either.

In the old days (you know, when SAA made profits and BA couldn’t get a toe hold in South Africa) you could order several drinks if you wished and nothing was too much trouble for the cabin crew. On BA you eventually get one tiny bottle of wine (about a glass) and, since you almost never see the cabin crew it’s hard to tell if they were friendly/helpful or not. Still, it keeps the accountants happy I suppose.

And, just to add insult to injury, they’ve severely cut the number of “loyalty” miles you get if you book anything less than a “flexible” ticket (which is obviously seriously more expensive). Another nice little “screw the passenger” aspect.

I was thinking of submitting this little rant to the BA in-flight magazine (“High Life”) but since I couldn’t see any evidence of a copy and they haven’t updated their details on Brewers for nearly three years, (neither is their site helpful) perhaps they’ve cut that cost too?

Sure, there’s competition, but who wants to extend their journey by a several hours with a midnight stop over?

SAA used to be so good and then imploded. BA took over (well, the Cape Town route anyway – which I’ve heard is one of the most profitable in the world) and they’ve managed to seriously downgrade what was once a marvellous airline.

Sad really.

Next time I’m going by sea – the cruise lines seem to get it right.

Have a wonderful year and if you’re planning on going overseas you might want to re-think your airline plans.


(ps: At the time of publishing this BA had not replied to my emails for comment). I wonder if they care at all? I doubt it.

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  1. Couldn’t agree more squire. BA have deteriorated beyond belief.
    Turkish is much better.

  2. Wholeheartedly agree. BA is one of the worst airlines, internally and long haul. That’s why the middle eastern airlines are so popular. Good service, edible food and as a special surprise – they’re half the price.

    • Good point

  3. I used to be a gold member of BA and the service was fabulous. But I moved away from BA a few years ago when I realized they didn’t care anymore. I also avoided them because of the U.K. Governments iniquitous transit visa requirements. Talk about a scam. I now fly Emirates or Qatar. Brilliant service, great prices and lots of leg room. Well worth (literally) going the extra mile.

    • That seems to be the general opinion Chris

  4. I switched from BA long-haul to Virgin Atlantic (love it) years ago but was considering the new BA Durban/London direct next time – thanks for the warning. Emirates is ok but two 8x hour flights with Dubai airport for however many hours in the middle was just not worth it.

    • Yes, that’s the problem – but I think, on the whole, that a longer journey is worth it. I don’t like being an “inconvenience”.

  5. Couldn’t agree with ” The Air Vice – Marshal ” more. I remember a time when your holiday begin when you stepped onto the plane, it was all part of the holidays experience. Even the staff were really friendly and even had time to chat to you – these days that’s virtually non existent.
    I must admit, I found the east Asian airlines were so much better when I used to travel to those destinations about 5 yrs ago.

    • Yes, I remember them well Fred.

  6. Brilliant Vice-Marshal. Gone are the days when excitement and adventure was the start of your holiday as Fred commented .I wish you could send this directly to the airlines for comment but wouldn’t hold my breath for a response.

    • I did send it to the people at BA.

      I had a response that someone would contact me “within 8 hours” – that was 24 hours ago.

  7. You raise the , now, perennial question ,”Who cares ?” As everyone has pointed out – Nobody ! No relief in sight from SAA and BA disappearing. Surely Virgin must step up their action even more and “take over” ?
    What is really troubling is that airline staff treat passengers as intruders not customers . Just like politicians : get the job , grab the perks et al and do NOT get your hands dirty doing any work.

    • Until there’s serious competition nothing will change – except that standards will fall even more.

      Prices will go up and I wouldn’t be surprised if they advised passengers to bring their own food.

  8. Have not had the misfortune to fly BA for years. Used Virgin last August to UK, which was a cramped seat and the same sort of nonchalant service as BA – mentioned – with crappy food. This was a special (extra cost) seat in economy, on the 787 Dreamliner.
    Summary: lousy flight both ways. Extra bucks for Richard.

    • Surprised that a distinguished looking man like you should get such poor service!

  9. Sadly/Happily I still prefer SAA – not sure why but I just do…. their service isn’t much kop but the last time I flew BA it was on one of those dreadful double storey planes – never ever again! Guess I’m just getting old and crotchety 😀

    • The world would be a boring place if we all thought the same. If you’re happy with SAA (I guess you live in Johannesburg?) then stay with what you like.

  10. My wife and I had exactly the same experience – BA London – Cape Town. In addition to no entertainment, poor service, and cramped seating, we had two broken seats that wouldn’t recline and the bloke in front of us seat was a full recliner! No announcements from the cockpit either. Because the safety film couldnt be shown the cabin staff had to do their imitation of a break dancer – and looked thoroughly unhappy about having to fill in.
    Our experience with Delta and American Airlines has been exceptional – they actually employ older cabin staff who are articulate, polite, understand the word ‘service’ and appear thankful that they have a job, in contrast to the BA youngsters where every request is such a pain.

    • Have not had the same experiences with airline in America (neither of the two you mention). But maybe I flew on their “off” days”.

  11. Totally agree with what you have written. Additionally, you are told that when you check in online 24hours before the flight, you can choose your seats. This is often nonsense. On check in online you are allocated a seat and cannot change it, even when you get to the airport early to try to do so. So friends and family members end up sitting all over the plane in different seats, separate form each other. To aggravate matters, my one daughter, who flies frequently, is never allowed to check in online due to a fault in the BA system that they can’t seem to fix.

    • Yes, online check-in has become something of a joke really.

  12. Only ever fly Emirates these days. Took advantage of a special fare on business class last year and we were treated like royalty. Greeted by name as we boarded and the lovely smiley (remember those?) air hostesses could not do enough for us on the four flights.

    Ok the Dubai airport is a real pain but we only had a 2 hour stopover and big bonus we flew on the new Airbus from Munich (think it’s an A320?) and that is pure luxury. They had to evict us when we got to Dubai, I was trying to negotiate timeshare.

    • Yes, but you’re a smart lady!

  13. Pity SAA cant get their act together, at least BA know how to run a profitable business, even if it does mean shafting their customers…

    Have you seen the latest from Ryan Air? I think it even costs extra if you would like to breath during your flight.

    • I’m sure that BA is being run like a proper business (as it should be of course) but I think you reach a point where you have to pay more attention to the customer. From comments on this site and Facebook and Twitter etc., it seems to me that there are a lot of very angry passengers out there. I truly believe they should be extremely careful going forward.

  14. As committed, unthinking CPT – LHR – CPT BA customers for years, we went to BA to book our biennial UK visit a couple of years ago. From Uk we’d intended then to fly to Prague, then Zurich and back to UK before flying back to CPT. Obviously extra, but shock. Horror. So – onto Emirates : the whole deal, including 4 nights in a hotel in Prague for roughly half the BA CPT -LHR – CPT fare….Longer flight, but longer legroom, better service and happy customers. CPT – LHR has been BA’s golden goose for too long, with customers being the goose’s er droppings.

    • Wow! What a story. The sad part is that BA probably doesn’t give a damn.

  15. Comments on their FB should do the trick to get a reaction – at least I find it works to put comments about service out there for everyone to see. Normally get quick responses!

    • Thanks. I’ve tried several approaches but they just don’t seem to care.

      I’m not looking for compensation of any kind, I’d just like them to acknowledge that a great number of people are unhappy with them and what they intend to do about that.

      So far I’ve leaned that they don’t have phones or emails – just a Twitter account.

      The mind boggles.

  16. If it is such a “golden route” why are there no other operators? Does not make economic sense to me, maybe this is the cost of operating this route these days? I imagine the exchange rate fluctuations don’t help either.

    Until there is direct flight competition it is not going to change. Virgin and SAA should start CPT-LHR and then let’s see what happens to the pricing.

  17. You had better check your facebook settings.Everytime I switch on my computer and go to facebook it tells me Chris Brewer likes British Airways !!

    • Ha Ha Ha!


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