British Airways is the ultimate ‘because of Covid’ villain

Do you remember the glamour of air travel? The free magazines, space to stretch your legs – even a coaster for your Bloody Mary. It wasn’t that long ago when flying felt like a treat, that feeling of being a pampered customer rather than a hen in a battery farm.

It’s a far cry from the queues snaking for miles around England’s airports this week after more than 1,000 flights were cancelled. It was a meltdown of epic proportions as the Easter holidays began. There was such a breakdown that emergency services were called in to Manchester airport to maintain order, after which the managing director stepped down.

EasyJet and British Airways both cancelled flights after suffering difficulties with staffing as Covid infections forced workers to call in sick. Ah yes, it’s that old chestnut again: because of Covid.

With infection rates sky-high, you may be sympathetic to the airlines’ plight. But the numbers speak for themselves and Covid can no longer be a real reason for shoddy customer service.

All airlines have been scrambling to react to increased demand: Abta, the trade body, found that 57pc of people had a holiday abroad planned in the next 12 months, up from 44pc in ­October 2021.

As a result, British Airways has been increasing its flight schedules, but with fewer staff. When the pandemic wiped out air travel, BA fired about 13,000 people but has since said it plans to rehire only around 3,000 of them.

It is not just BA that has these problems. Martin Chalk of the pilots’ union Balpa said this kind of chaos would continue throughout the spring and summer because “airlines, laden with debt … have not yet rehired enough staff”. But we expect better of BA, rather than the cheap and cheerful ­flavour of easyJet.

It is our so-called flag carrier after all, promising “to fly, to serve” in its motto. It has even roped in national treasure Emma Raducanu to help promote itself as being the best of British. And it was the beneficiary of a £2bn state-backed loan early last year.

It really should be the John Lewis of the skies: sturdy, reliable and never knowingly undersold (although that has quietly been jettisoned too). Instead, it promises a lot but fails to deliver, while begging for forgiveness.

Previous bouts of flight cancellations that brought Heathrow’s terminal five to a halt were caused by IT meltdowns.

I was caught up in one such frenzy of cancellations in February, after which it sent a grovelling text – little comfort to those whose holidays were ruined. And don’t expect these cataclysms to end any time soon. Alex Cruz, BA’s former boss, said last year that “if you look at the underlying systems that all big airlines … rely on, it is 20, 30, 40, 50-year-old technology, it is amazing to see”.

Why can’t we rely on our national airline to really serve us?

It has succumbed to the current trend of companies blaming Covid for shoddy customer service taking place more than two years after the pandemic started.

The new boss, Sean Doyle, has said repairing BA’s reputation is one of his priorities. He’d better hurry up before its reputation is tarred forever.

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