Terminal 5 trauma – British Airways and missed reputation management opportunities

Just one week ago, I was returning home from an Amsterdam holiday. I flew into Heathrow’s brand-new Terminal 5 and happily boarded my plane.

My luggage did not.

If you’ve been tracking the Terminal 5-blues news, you’d know that it’s been estimated that 20,000 bags were stuck in Heathrow. Volunteer British Airways staff are manually hand-sorting them as I type. Reputation-management wise, British Airways is in deep doo-doo, with calls for the CEO’s resignation. And customer-wise, travelers are booking with other airlines, trying to avoid Terminal 5’s chaotic reputation.

Unfortunately, every business is vulnerable to a public relations nightmare (although British Airway’s is exceedingly bad.) The key is how you deal with it. British Airways can be remembered as “the airline that will lose your luggage,” or “the airline that had a glitch, but overcame it with great customer service.”

From a customer perspective, I’m frustrated. Here it is, seven days later, and I still don’t have my bag. The BA.com luggage tracking system is down frequently, and customer service doesn’t have any new information. I understand that this is an extraordinary situation – but here’s what would make me feel happier from a customer service perspective:

  1. A dedicated mini-site (even a blog) focused solely on the lost baggage issue. 20,000 bags in backlog and missing bags seven days out would indicate that many, many people need help. It’s not like a site like this will hurt BA – after all, the luggage situation has made international news. But it would show that BA is trying.
  2. Information about claims as they apply to this situation. Granted, claim information is on the BA.com site. However, it’s been implied that BA will increased the compensation amount for passengers stuck in the Terminal 5 fiasco. If I knew that British Airways was increasing the compensation, I would feel OK about buying a new pair of jeans rather than feeling resentful that I’m spending MY money because of BA’s baggage issues. Having updated information on the Terminal 5 mini-site would be incredibly helpful.
  3. Updated general baggage information. If luggage is being manually sorted – and the database isn’t necessarily reflecting that – please tell us. If BA.com has reduced the luggage backload by 5000 pieces a day, please post it on the site. I feel much more comfortable in a control-free situation when I at least have the most accurate information.
  4. An apology. It may sound trite, but I would love to see a dedicated Terminal 5 site with a big fat “We’re so, so sorry” statement right on the home page. Customer service has been excellent in relying this information – but I want to hear it from BA.com’s management.
  5. A forum where people can ask general questions about the luggage situation. Granted, this would take some manpower on BA.com’s side. But it would be nice to have another way to contact British Air and learn new information without being put on hold for 10 minutes or more.

Setting up a Terminal 5 dedicated blog and creating content for it wouldn’t take much time. A smart SEO or reputation management expert could take care of it in half a day. And then, British Airways could point to the site and say, “See, we’re trying. We do care. And we’re doing everything we can to make this right.”

The one saving grace during this time? I have to say that British Airways customer service is excellent. Most of the reps I’ve talked with have been friendly and helpful – even though they are on the “where’s my luggage” firing lines. My only hope is that these excellent folks get some sort of hazard pay. They certainly deserve it.

Just called the airline to ask about my luggage. Apparently, 5,000 bags are being put on flights today. They can’t tell me if my bag was one of them. And so it continues… :)