British Airways customer failures part 1: broken processes

British Airways customer failures part 1: broken processes

Summary: The airline's uncanny ability to bungle even simple tasks beggars belief, yet it stands as an exemplar of all that's messed up in modern day IT development.

TOPICS: Browser

This is part one of a three parter. In this part I talk about process failures in communications and the ticket locator/e-ticket systems. In part two, I talk about the website. In part three I talk abut the broader implications for development and customer relationships in a hyper connected world.

Those who drift between this weblog and my personal site will know that every now and again I launch a tirade against some aspect of travel. The latest target for my ire is that icon of self deprecating failure: British Airways. Its uncanny ability to muff even common day tasks beggars belief yet it stands as an exemplar of all that's messed up in modern day IT development. Here we go...

I've been on a near round the world trip the last few weeks. Kicking off in London, I ventured west to Houston, then back to London, on to Sydney Australia, round to Frankfurt and then back home. All in 17 days. All booked under different ticket locators with BA. Except as I write this I am not back home. I am sat in an airport. still not home and a day late.

Due to scheduling issues, I was a 'no show' at one leg that connected to lots of other legs of the journey but under the same ticket locator. Little did I know that because of the no show, my itinerary was at risk. Nobody told me. Nobody pinged me to find out what was going on, less still call up or send an inquiring email. I didn't realise the gravity of that situation until late in the day.

Arriving off a red eye from Houston, I immediately rechecked bags and obtained my next ticket which was to Sydney. All is good so far apart form the fact I had been a no show on an inbound to London from Malaga. This was because the Houston flight was a late addition to the overall schedule and conflicted with the outbound from Malaga. This was the triggering event for what followed.

When I returned to Sydney airport, the check in agent could find no record of me. Holy crap - I am standing there with a confirmation loaded into TripIt and she has no clue about me?

A quick run over to the Qantas desk revealed that because of the Malaga no show my itinerary had been voided. A clatter of keys by the sales agent and I am on my way as intended, complete with a fresh itinerary showing what I thought was the correct e-ticket number. What I didn't know then but came to realise later is that I was booked on two e-tickets for the same itinerary i.e. Malaga>London>Sydney>Frankfurt>London>Malaga.

Arriving at Frankfurt I made a beeline for the BA desk and ask them to check me - or at least get me a ticket at least as far as London. According to their records, my ticket to London is open but the final leg to Malaga is missing. Confident I can get it resolved in London I journey onwards. It was only when I arrived at London that things went really pear shaped. It turns out my ticket from the UK (remember the no show thing?) back home is voided due to the no show. BA tell me that to get on this flight will set me back an extra £870 or thereabouts. That's not going to happen.

Arguing with the call centre is pointless and horribly time wasting. Two calls that tell me wait time will be more than 15 minutes, a wait time of 9 minutes followed by a fruitless call with the agent and another 22 minutes wait before speaking with an agent who at least empathised with my situation did not resolve the situation.

According to BA's Ts & Cs: 6c) You must check in by the check-in deadline

If you do not complete the check-in process by the check-in deadline, we may decide to cancel your reservation and not carry you.

This is not the same as 'will' cancel, a fact I pointed out to the empathetic agent but which got me nowhere. All of this is really a prelude to the various places that BA's systems fail in the value delivery chain.

  1. The call center is understaffed. Four calls over a period of 12 hours during which the wait time is at least 15 minutes on all calls tells me something. Where are the systems that predict call loads?
  2. Part of the problem seems to stem from the fact that the original booking agent organised two e-tickets albeit under the same ticket locator. Right now it is unclear which of the tickets BA voided although from the printed information I have, it sounds like the Malaga>London return. Where are the processes for reconciling ticket issues in these circumstances?
  3. It doesn't make sense that there was a bowling ball effect onto other e-tickets i.e. the Sydney>Frankfurt leg and as yet no-one can explain what happened. BA allows this confusion to occur. Why?
  4. At the very least there is confusion and conflicting information at BA and communicated to me. That should never happen. BA should always be in full possession of the right information. It is a security issue. If the agents are confused then where is the escalation process to help them out?
  5. At no time did anyone advise me that a part of my itinerary was at risk. Given the fact there were two tickets under the same locator reference is it beyond the wit of man to at least insert an IF>THEN SQL statement into the workflow so that a communication can be instantiated? This cannot be an uncommon issue.
  6. The interpretation of 'may' to 'will' is not made clear to customers. That is palpably unfair.

On to the BA website. This is where things really get screwy.

Topic: Browser

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  • Can't wait for the next installment!!

    I can only empathize with you Dennis. BA has so many problems that need to be addressed, it's shocking that we still put up with them.
    • Oh dear.

      As a regular BA patron of some 40 years (BOAC, Concorde etc) I can honestly say they are overall one of the better airlines out there. Maybe not perfect but in the environment they now operate (Middle Eastern airlines, Low costs airlines etc) they do very well and are an asset to the nation.
      • I"d like to think so but...

        ...this tale only gets worse.
  • A great reminder

    on why I have organised my life so I hardly ever have to fly.

    However let's leave my annoying smugness aside for a moment and say that I have sympathy with your dilemma. What seems especially puzzling is that the impact of the Malaga-London flight only took effect when you were in Sydney and not earlier.

    However I wouldn't blame "modern IT development" necessarily for this. The business process hasn't been defined clearly. The systems are only there to support the process - if the systems are not defined correctly then you cannot develop a coherent system to support the process.

    Switching momentarily back to tiresome pedant mode, there is no such thing as an IF THEN statement in SQL (in PL/SQL or Transact-SQL yes, but not in SQL). You don't need if then to do implication.

    From the business perspective the risk should have been highlighted earlier, but given that it makes no logical sense why the London-Sydney leg of the itinerary wasn't impacted it is hard to see how a system that is fundamentally contradictory could report its own contradictions.

    But maybe BA are so agile that the rules changed while you were on the flight from London to Sydney ;-).

    I think most call centres are understaffed. I also suspect that the main purpose of call centres is to avoid the possibility of you actually speaking to the same person twice - who might then be able to take responsibility for providing customer service.
  • BA are not blame

    They don't run the reservation system:
  • let's get this straight

    "Due to scheduling issues"

    "This was because the Houston flight was a late addition to the overall schedule"

    So basically this whole thing was your own fault. nice.
    • I absolutely concur

      My take on this is that the author screwed up and, to cover his embarrassment and self-made misfortune, decided to flail against BA. There's no doubt that BA has problems and can improve things with their processes, web site, CRM, etc. However, I've seen this many times order to deflect blame, or at least share it, someone tries to find any disagreeable issues with an otherwise good entity and amplifies them to support their own viewpoint. With the power of the press (actually, I've never considered blogs to be part of the journalistic press), this person can make a bloody big scream about it. Sad!
      • Not Quite

        I was not aware that a no show on one leg meant that a whole ticket could/would be cancelled. This is compounded by the fact there is confusion over ticket references. So don't just call foul on my part. If you read on to the other parts this is not necessarily an industry wide practice.
      • Ignorance isn't exactly a great defense

        While I don't doubt that the follow-up on this situation could be better handled in some areas, the fact you admit you weren't aware of the terms and conditions of your reservation isn't really bolstering your argument. The argument seems to then be 'BA should be better equipped to handle folks who didn't pay attention.'
      • I agree

        Firstly, "This was because the Houston flight was a late addition to the overall schedule and conflicted with the outbound from Malaga."

        User error.

        But secondly, "I was not aware that a no show on one leg meant that a whole ticket could/would be cancelled."

        It's strange what we expect nowadays. Everyone else is to blame, *but not us*. I would, at the very minimum, wonder - "If I missed a leg, do I risk messing up the whole itinerary? Should I at least check?"

        I know what I would do.

        Mark, UK, but in no way upset at the obvious rant against our premier airline. My comments are purely objective. :)
      • No show cancels flights

        The writer has got it severely wrong. In the era of terrorism any leg that???s missed by no show cancels all other flights. This is not only industry standard but legislation in most countries including the US.
      • So not just bad for the customer, a security risk too

        "In the era of terrorism any leg that???s missed by no show cancels all other flights. "

        But how did Mr Howlett get on the London-Sydney flight!

        BA systems simply don't provide an up to date consistent view of the data. Or to put it another way they provide the wrong data.
  • A sterling example of why...

    ...private airline companies will always be superior! Why doesn't the British government just cut its' losses and let Southwest run their airline?
    Tony Burzio
    • British Airways is private

      British Airways is a private airline and has no association with the British Government. In the same American Airlines isn't run by the American Government
  • Indeed a mess

    However, I would say that most if not all is self-inflicted. If you missed a flight it is up to you to make the contact and re-confirm your flights, not just sit there expecting BA will somehow expect you to magically appear for the next leg. Additionally if you want better service regarding ticketing and hand-holding which you obviously need, go to a full service travel agent or book directly with the airline.
    Your rant (and with all the poor english and bad spelling) makes me think that you are trying in a very feeble manner to transfer fault from yourself to blame on BA.
    • But I did

      ...appear for the next leg (and all subsequent legs) and yes it was booked with a full service agent.
      • and yet you did not...

        advise your full service travel agent of your missed leg.
        There is not much more than a communications problem...and given the millions of miles I have flown (yes, millions) I have always ensured that I advise my agent of any change in situation. This has worked flawlessly for me whether in South America or China...never fails
  • The Onus

    I can empathize with you Dennis. As an ex BA Staffer of 16 years and also a Travel Agent for 7 years, I have seen the issue you raise many, many times. However, in all those years, the excuse 'I Did Not Know' (the rules) really does not cut it. Am I correct to say you are a seasoned traveller?. Can I also say you have flown on airlines more than a few times in your career/life? Is it possible that you have had a chance to find out or read your tickets rules? Did you read them?. This may seem like nit picking, however I am more than sure when you make a financial choice to purchase something or to spend a large amount of money, you always astutely read the terms and conditions. It never ceases to amaze me that people still use 'I Did Not Know', when they refer to an airline flight problem after buying the tickets and NOT reading the Terms and Conditions. From my experince, in a situation likes yours, a ticket agent will help you at all times. It's in their best interest to do so and mostly they do. They also like to see you 'Help' yourself without aportioning all the blame on the airline. Take some time next time to have a look at your tickets rules......
  • Airline Complaints

    I think this about sums it up
  • You Get What You Pay For

    I sympathize with your issues. However, the other side of the story is also valid. The BA's policies are the norm in the business. Most airlines however don't enforce those policies for the frequent flyer customers. The reason they are enforced for other travelers is that those travelers chose to fly on that airline for one specific reason: schedule or price. Customer service is not typically a component of the choice of airline decision making process. Consequently airlines don't provide customer service. If customers don't ask for it, you don't have to provide it.

    For high mileage frequent flyers (who represent 80% of the revenue), customer service does matter. So it is essential that the airline focus their efforts on support those customer's needs.