A cautionary lesson for British Airways and other airlines on responding to customers on social media

A few months I ago I posted about the disappointment experienced by many British Airways passengers when BaxterStorey took over the catering contract for the British Airways lounges at Heathrow Terminal 5.

The issue had largely died down. That was until last Saturday a poster on FlyerTalk had identified that, following an inspection of two of the six lounges at Terminal 5 (The Galleries First lounge and Concorde Room), Hillingdon Council had awarded these lounges a food safety score of 2 out of a possible 5. This means an improvement is required.

To put this into context, almost all of the outlets at Terminal 5 achieved either a score of 4 or 5 with only Gordon Ramsay’s “Plane Food” restaurant and a branch of Caffe Nero achieving a score of 2.

The subsequent discussion bubbled away over the weekend, with many expecting an immediate response as soon as the working week started on Monday. However, no such response was forthcoming.

The discussion continued to bubble, and at some point a journalist at MailOnline was tipped off about a potential story.

A response from BaxterStorey was finally posted this afternoon (Wednesday). The response acknowledged the inspection’s findings and BaxterStorey’s response, which includes a refurbishment of the kitchens used to prepare food. Interestingly, the response, whilst posted by BA, was signed off by BaxterStorey.

However, that was too late to contain the story and MailOnline has subsequently published this article bearing the headline “Two flies, to serve: How the food from British Airways First Class Executive lounge is no better than your average burger van”.

Now there may be temporary issues caused by the transition between suppliers that prompted the low score but the failure of British Airways and BaxterStorey to spot a potential storm and respond in a timely manner (what Alastair Campbell would call a “rapid rebuttal”) has now resulted in a very negative story on MailOnline (which will no doubt be picked up by other news outlets and blogs in and outside the UK) and a lot of lost goodwill with passengers.

Had BA and BaxterStorey been more candid and issued an immediate response the matter would not have run and run for five days. In fields such as politics, it would be unthinkable for a potential storm to be allowed to gather for such a long period of time.

And for British Airways, this is a timely reminder that it has to take responsibility for its suppliers and passenger communications. After all, passengers buy their tickets from BA, not BaxterStorey.

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