There are some leaders who are blessed with the ability to put into words, the unexpressed feelings harboured by many of their fellow-citizens.
President Akufo Addo seems to be one of these leaders. When, on 11 April 2017, he told a visiting delegation of British Airways officials to ensure that their Airline does not “take Ghanaians for granted”, he was speaking for many silent customers of British Airways. I personally felt like getting up and cheering, for as you will soon find out, I have a bone to pick with the Airline.
President Akufo-Addo was quite specific in his complaints: concerns had been raised by some Ghanaians over the service of British Airways, he said.
“People complain about the movement (of flights to and from Accra) from [Heathrow] Terminal 5 to Terminal 3. Terminal 3 is not as convenient a place as Terminal 5,” he pointed out.
The President went on: “ As British Airways prepares to commemorate 80 years of flying into Ghana, there have been complaints about the quality of the planes (on the route) and the service. In some quarters, there is a feeling that you are taking us a little for granted in the way in which we are receiving your services.”
Nana Addo then charged British Airways to “upgrade” the quality of its services.
Having heard the concerns expressed by the President, the British Airways Corporate Commercial Manager for Europe, Africa and the Levant, Mr Paolo De Renzis, assured the President of his outfit’s “resolve” to upgrade the quality of its services. “We have a long-standing relationship with Ghana,” Mr De Renzis said. “We are strongly committed to the market, and we appreciate your feedback. We will work very hard to improve the products and services to Ghana all the time,” he stated.
Very nice indeed. But I doubt whether the Corporate Commercial Manager of British Airways for Europe, Africa and the Levant will be able to do much to improve the Airline's services to Ghana. Usually, corporate policy is decided at “board level” and handed to the Airline's "coal-face" underlings to implement. And the “board” is advised by expensive firms of accountants on how to augment “the bottom line” (that is to say, "profits").
Which means that unless a competitor or competitors arrive on the scene to offer genuinely better services on the route and take business away from it, the Airline will pare down the quality of its services, in order to reap as much profit as possible.
For what is called “the ugly face of capitalism” has hit the Airlines of the world very hard indeed in recent times. I recently read about a British Airways plane that allegedly flew without toilet tissue paper on board! What? Yes! British Airways!
But British Airways is still 'civilised', compared to some of the airlines in the United States. A case in point is the behaviour of United Airlines towards a passenger recently, which has gone viral on the Internet. Because United does not fear competition on the vastly contracted internal flights business in the USA, it sometimes treats its passengers like dirt.
In the incident that has gone viral on the Internet, United overbooked a flight and needed to remove one passenger. Its officials decided on a passenger of Oriental descent and asked him to leave the plane. The passenger, a doctor, probably felt that he was being picked upon because of his ethnicity, and refused to comply with the request to disembark.
Whereupon airport police were called to come and remove him by force. And oh! -- did they do their work well? They dragged the poor man, still struggling, along the floor of the plane's cabin. Fellow passengers looked on in horror and some could be heard screaming at sight of what was being done to a fellow passenger.
The doctor was taken off the plane. But during the process of being forcibly removed, he lost two teeth, had a broken nose and suffered other injuries that kept him in hospital for a few days. Now, when a passenger is treated this way, he suffers doubly -- for some people are scared stiff of flying, and are already in a semi-traumatic state -- psychologically -- when they arrrive at the airport. Any nastiness displayed towards them therefore launches them straight into hysteria, without "curve or bend!"
And all because United Airlines had made a mistake and overbooked the flight. It later turned out that actually, there were some staff members of the Airline on the plane, who, one would have thought, would have been the first to be asked to make way for paying passengers. But maybe the staff were off somewhere to fly another plane for United, and if they were left behind, United would lose money. So they took off the poor doctor, and now their name stinks throughout the world.
Not that they would mind too much. As I have pointed out, the Airline industry has been contracting, whereas passenger numbers have been increasing by leaps and bounds. So, these days, if you get on a flight, it's as if you're being done a favour. As for customer relations, it's gone completely to pot. I am not saying that on the basis of hear-say, but out of a very bitter personal experience.
Some time last year, I purchased a British Airways ticket: London-Accra-London. But just before the designated day of travel, I fell ill. I made sure I telephoned British Airways in good time to tell them I couldn't fly on the day I had booked. In the good old days, this would have been no problem. They would just have postponed my flight to a new agreed date, or set the day of departure as “Open”. Then whenever I felt capable of flying, they would have checked to see if there was room on the flight for me. End of story.
But not this time! First, I was asked to obtain a medical report confirming that I was unfit to fly. I had just told them I was ill and they wanted me to go to see a medical officer, waste the time of the patients who needed his/her attention, and procure a certificate saying I wasn't fit to fly?
I resented being bullied when I was not well, but there was nothing to do. So I managed to drag myself to go and get the certificate and send it to the address given to me. It was NOT even acknowledged!
Well, as expected, I got well soon. And I called British Airways to try and reinstate my flight. They said I should bring another medical certificate confirming that I was now fit to fly!
What? My date of birth had been entered as part of the data
needed before a ticket could be issued to me. Would a mature adult seek to fly if he was still unfit to travel? Especially if this same adult had had the good sense to postpone his travel once, because of ill-health?
I remember distinctly the day I went for second medical certificate that said I could now travel. It was most inconvenient because -- it was raining! Not only that: my computer's printer had packed up, so I had to go out in the rain to find a place where I could scan the certificate and send it. I was rebuffed by one or two shops I approached, and was veryndespondent until a kindly lady at an estate agent's eventually did it for me. I felt terrible – how could they bully any person in such a way?
But that was the least of my troubles. Having sent the certificate, I now needed to have my ticket revalidated and a date set for me to fly. The BA person who eventually took my call – after I'd hung on for over half an hour – said he couldn't find any trace of my ticketing matters. He gave me another number to call. Same thing. It was as if I was I the hands of well-trained ROBOTS who had been programmed to toss me from place to place, at my own expense, in terms of telephone time!
They kept shifting the goalposts the whole time, and inserting me into a vicious circle."You sent the certificate? We can't find it here. Call this other number!"
"You were asked to call us? But we don't deal with things like that!...."
I swear, I was reduced almost to tears, and eventually after about two hours of total frustration phone, I gave up. I haven't had the courage to pursue the matter since. Every time I think of the potential annoyance a call would create in me, I put it off. In other words, they've bullied me into impotence.
Meanwhile, I am sure my stolen fare has been processed as part of the “profits” made by British Airways. And the BA ROBOTS will make sure I never get it back. For the technique is perfect -- once the fare has been paid, make sure it's not easy for it to perform the service required. Profit. QED!
My President has spoken for me. But I don't think anything will happen. For unless British Airways is seriously threatened with the loss of the extremely lucrative Accra route – which means some other Airline being given the route – it will still enjoy its position as Airline of choice for Accra-London passengers. That is because very few people like to make two or three stops, when a non-stop flight is available.
So British Airways has got people like me by the short hairs, and it knows it. Me, I need a lot of ice in my veins before Iattempt again to contact the ROBOTS to rescue my stolen airfare. But I shall do it. At least, in the end, I shall feel a few more pounds well spent, even if I have to get a good lawyer who will be able to persuade the airline industry regulator to get them to give me the ticket I bought but was unable to use – just because I fell ill.
Now, ask yourself: if they could treat a person who fell into their hands only because he was sick in this scandalous way, what about someone who, somehow, could not travel, for a far less plausible reason?
The author, Cameron Duodo is a seasoned journalist of international repute.