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Mis-Communicator of the Week: British Airways

11th June 2014


This week a Europe wide IT problem effected the UK's airports and the luggage they handle. Unfortunately, it affected me too. Which is where this week's communication failure begins.

The long and the short of it is that yesterday my wife and I were reunited with luggage we had previously last seen 4 days before. In between were a succession of communication failures which undermined a brand and my loyalty to it.

As someone who has led responses to a broad range of crisis communication challenges I understand that issues arise which are out of the control of a company. How they respond is not.

The failures begin with my plane taking off from Heathrow without all but business class luggage aboard. The crew would have known but they failed to tell the passengers.

When we arrived at our destination we, and our fellow passengers, waited patiently at the baggage claim for over an hour until, finally, some crusading soul investigated the delay which resulted in us all besieging the Iberia help desk. It was them who informed us of the Europe wide IT issue which BA knew about as we checked in at Heathrow hours before.

Unfortunately the Iberia staff had no information as to what was happening and could do little but take our details and say our bags would be with us "when possible".

Over the following days we waited for hours on the phone to the customer service line but the only message that was clearly – repeatedly – communicated was that "20,000 bags have gone missing" which obviously made us feel less than cared for.

I tried to gather information via Twitter but the BA account merely broadcasted standard lines, offered no engagement and failed to answer my direct questions. Tweets such as "We are truly sorry for the inconvenience you have faced. Please know we are working hard to remedy the situation" are impersonal and come across as insincere.

When we called the phone number British Airways did send me it was a generic customer service line with no information about our bags.

Throughout this British Airways have seemed distant, impersonal and – while everyone we spoke to was polite – rather uncaring. We are still bemused why we weren't informed we were leaving Heathrow without our bags. A little bit of frankness then would have helped an awful lot.

While I'd be the first to say that message discipline matters so does being 100 per cent honest and accountable in corporate life. My personal experience has been that British Airways has failed to achieve that which is why they are my Mis-Communicators of the Week.

Communicator of the Week is written by Ed Staite.



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