Something of a first world problem admittedly, but it’s recently come to the attention of the various frequent flyer circles that BA’s “flagship” lounges at it’s Heathrow hub, the T5 Concorde Room and First Class Lounge recently only scored 2 (out of 5) on a recent food hygiene inspection.
The low score places this “exclusive” venue (to paraphrase BA), reserved specifically for it’s “top customers”, into the bottom 10% of food service premises in the UK. This is something of a last straw for BA’s loyal frequent flyers who have already been upset by a perceived reduction in the quality and service offered by the lounges since the contract for running the food service operation at all BA’s UK lounges were switched to a new operator earlier this year.
There have been complaints of less choice, simple service failures such as grubby cups, glasses and plates put out for customers to use, and used, dirty pots not being regularly cleared away, food not being cooked through properly, and a previously reasonable hot buffet being replaced with troughs of stodgy “gloop” – unpleasant wet food.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information request, the local authority responsible for the inspection, Hillingdon Council, have made the full contents of the report available, highlighting a catalogue of basic food safety disasters:
- Out-of-date food in the kitchens
- Multiple food preparation areas being sufficiently dirty to be in need of immediate cleaning
- “High-risk” food such as prepared sandwiches and cooked meats being insufficiently chilled
- Hot buffet food being kept at a sufficiently low temperature to increase risk
- Cross-contamination between raw and cooked food
- Kitchen maintenance problems such as holes in the walls and floor
- Inadequate documentation of staff training
BA have so far been tight-lipped on the matter, anecdotal reports suggesting that senior BA figures consider this just to be some “noisy people on the Internet” which probably highlights that they don’t get it and have their head firmly in the sand. Does this indicate a level of disrespect within BA for it’s customers?
To their credit BaxterStorey meanwhile have issued a statement which, while conciliatory in tone and recognises the failings to some extent, largely seems to fob the problem off on needing to “refurbish” the kitchen.
This really isn’t a brilliant response. Remember, we’re talking about BA’s flagship lounge at it’s flagship airport.
In terms of apologising, what should BA do?
One of the questions among the frequent flyer community has been over BA’s handling of this. While BA’s sub-contractor has decided to issue a statement, there’s been nothing from BA to the most regular lounge guests, it’s frequent flyers.
It’s my opinion that there’s only one way BA can approach this:
with openness, transparency, responsibility and accountability
I know that’s probably a tough ask of a large multi-national corporation with a slick PR machine which is used to deny accountability for everything from delays to lost luggage.
You may ask why the frequent flyers care so much about getting a response from BA, or why BA should care so much to communicate in an frank and honest way with it’s customers?
The frequent flyers care about getting a spin-free honest reply, because they have made a financial and emotional investment in BA. To earn the magic Silver and Gold cards to get them in the privacy of the Galleries lounges, they have spent a lot of money and time with the airline.
They’ve been good, regular customers, demonstrated loyalty to BA, and so have a built an expectation of being dealt with respectfully and fairly in return. That trust has been betrayed by BA and BaxterStorey.
To feed them spin is likely to just increase the levels of angst and venom. The frequent flyers are actively looking for a reason to forgive.
The more honest and fair BA are with their response the more likely they are to be forgiven by it’s community of regular passengers.
See this as an opportunity to set themselves apart from their competitors. It’s not a disaster that must be avoided. Approach it head on.
You’ve been let down, we failed to meet your expectations. We’ve let our supplier take their eye off the ball. We’re sorry. You deserve better. We’ll do better. Here’s how…
Be honest about the mistakes that led to this, and what’s going to happen to make it better.
Most importantly, mean it then do it.