To be honest, it had some tough competition to beat for the crown of what is effectively the most deteriorating service, beating slip-ups in the customer journey offered by broadband, insurance and tech companies. Nevertheless, when customers were asked who really let their customer service slip in the past year, the airlines were way up there. They're still only mid-table for overall customer dissatisfaction, which is topped by public transport, utilities and broadband providers. However, for slipping up in the past year, the airlines are way ahead.
Regular readers will know I've been calling out the airline industry for quite some time. Just yesterday I was trying to find out the detail of my summer holiday airport parking, but because I didn't have a reference number or booking number, I couldn't carry on. It's the same with trying to do nearly everything with any airline. Ironically, my car hire company has the car I've booked this summer permanently bookmarked when I sign in. Just try doing the same with an airline. The amount of times you're asked to remember a booking reference number to see flights is ridiculous. What could possibly be wrong with just listing the flights I've booked once I've signed in?
When it comes to flying, it's been a bad year for the airlines. As soon as you think of air travel now you can't help but see the image of a bloodied doctor being forcibly removed from the seat he had bought with United. There are other instances that have gone viral, but that's the picture none of us will shake for a while.
Then there's British Airways. The flag carrier that used to be a treat to fly but now is indistinguishable from a bargain airline, only usually without the bargain prices. The free nuts have gone and they've even had the audacity to stop handing out a complimentary G&T. How's a Brit supposed to start a business trip or weekend away without a cheeky tipple and a bag of KP? This was handled incredibly badly. Flights I had booked last year left a space for a meal choice yet wouldn't process what I selected. The solution I eventually found out was there was no meal, nor complimentary drinks anymore. OK -- so why ask what I want for lunch? Why ask what special dietary requirements I may have if you're not going to offering food?
The biggest fiasco for BA has obviously been strike action, which has caused delays through the past year or so, and then that massive IT failure on the weekend in May when everyone was trying to get away for the half-term holidays. Staff were overrun, bags were left scattered around the airport, as were weary passengers trying to sleep and wake up to better news. The takeaway was that BA simply didn't care. Information was patchy and people were forced to buy tickets elsewhere to get home or start their journey. The uncaring persona the airline managed to carry off was right up there with a Bond villain shrugging as an enemy is thrown into a pool of sharks.
The Times speculated yesterday that much of BA's woes are an addition to cost cutting that gathered momentum under "Slasher Walsh" its former Chief Executive but is still ongoing. The airlines denies that massive savings, including a slashing of its IT bill, had anything to do with the half-term computer fiasco.
it is not just BA, of course. Fly with any budget airline and you soon see the costs are slashed by not having enough check-in staff. The airline would rather keep staff costs down at the expense of massive queues snaking around the terminal. Then there are all the costs for seemingly straightforward things, such as checking-in online and choosing a seat, taking hand luggage on board (Jet2 now charges to ensure bags stay with you) and some form of getting on a plane quicker. When the latter means you just get on a bus to a distant plane before everyone else, it really does lose its appeal.
The irony is, I've been speaking to hoteliers who admire the way airlines have simplified the customer journey through the use of tech. I'm not so sure. In theory, they have a point. But when the tech goes wrong and you're stranded, you're on your own, and everything you do from the moment flights are selected just comes across as another way of being squeezed for a few extra pounds.
If there is an industry that deserves to be called out on its customer service, it's the airlines. The public has obviously seen enough of fellow passengers being treated poorly and are kicking back against long queues, fuel surcharges, charges for everything the airline can possibly dream up and a general lack of care.
The problems used to be isolated, but with social filling up with virals of poor customer service, airlines need to be more aware that the problems they create are being widely shared among a receptive audience.