British Airways – Learn from your Southern African franchisee!

In its quest to re-engineer the customer experience, British Airways appears to have gone back a step or two.  Earlier this year, we commented how their pension scheme move was more of the same downward spiral. Now we see BA allegedly embarking on a plan to increase the number of seats on its aircraft on short-haul flights from London Heathrow.

This once premium brand has also come under fire recently for making cuts to legroom, eliminating drop-down video monitors and fitting seats that don’t recline on new aircraft – all measures that are not particularly customer friendly and don’t do much for the customer experience.

Having recently flown with its franchise partner in Southern Africa on domestic and regional flights, I find it quite ironic how the main British Airways brand could learn a thing or two from its franchisee, BA Comair. If anything, British Airways should be paying BA Comair for the privilege of retaining its branding.

Comair operates two airlines – a low-cost airline brand, kulula.com, and a legacy airline under the British Airways livery, as part of its British Airways license agreement. The airline company has been performing well, last year announcing a 54% increase in profits and 28% increase in cash generated by its operations which, by the way, are expanding into non-airline areas like airport lounges and travel businesses.

We experienced the former on a trip to South Africa during a recent business trip and can highly recommend the consistent quality of the service, facilities and food at BA Comair’s sophisticated and elegant SLOW Lounges. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for British Airways Lounges, which we frequent as guests from time to time.

With the Cape Town to Johannesburg route being one of the top 10 busiest domestic air routes in the world and the history of domestic airline failures in South Africa over the past two decades, BA Comair has to ensure that it remains top of its game at all times, and that includes investing in the customer experience, product and other non-airline services.

To this end, its aircraft fleet is continuously upgraded to improve the operating efficiency of the airline and its SLOW Lounges at airports are being expanded across airports in South Africa. The airline is investing in its customers.

Quoting Comair CEO Eric Venter in a recent Fin24 article: “You can’t wait a few years and then fix it. Cost is about knowing the business and looking for innovation to improve fleet efficiency and using new tech in booking and call centres, for instance, and to grow the business without growing the head count. Even our crew and airport staff come up with new ideas.”

Mr. Venter, well done to you and your staff. May your successes continue into the new year, and may British Airways learn a thing or two from its South African cousins.

Have you flown the South African franchisee, BA Comair? What are your thoughts around the level of service and product you’re experiencing as a customer of British Airways? We would love to hear from you.

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