British Airways was launched as a state-owned airline in 1974, by a merger between British European Airways (BEA) and the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) (Cartwright 39). As a publicly owned air company, it had a reputation for bad service and stringent approaches to the management of the company (Cartwright 39). In February 1987, British Airways was privatized by the Conformist government in order to make changes to the poor image of the company (Cartwright 39). Upon privatization, the airline quickly changed from a dull bureaucracy to a point of reference for modernization, innovation and excellent service (Cartwright 39).
According to U.S management expert Tom Peters, emphasis on preliminary training for new employees and constant professional development are the foundations of creating and maintaining high organizational standards in terms of service and product delivery (Cartwright 40). Consumers are going to invest in a service or product that serves them well. The only consumer behavior that cuts across the board is value for money.
British Airways had a training program known as Fundamentals of Supervision (FOS) (Cartwright 40). The training program was available for entry level management and supervisory staff based in the UK only. After the Gulf War disaster in the 1990s, British Airways decided to restructure the program with the help of Oxford (Cartwright 40). The re-launched training program was to include staff from any part of the British Airways network and not just those from London (Cartwright 40).
A crucial characteristic of the training program was that it had to be easily reached and applicable to any member of the British Airways staff that was suggested by their respective airline managers as being eligible for the desired level of training (Cartwright 41). Factors such as department and country of work were not taken into consideration. Training was conducted purely on merit and necessity.
During the 1990s, participants of the revised Fundamentals of Supervision (FOS) training program included- cabin crew, pilots, sales representatives, administration staff, engineers, baggage employees, and check-in staff (Cartwright 41). The purpose of the training program was to ensure that the expertise attained as a result of the training would be relevant to the trainees’ job tasks and professional development (Cartwright 41). FOS was one of British Airway’s training ingenuities that flew employees from all over the company’s networks in the world to London for training (Cartwright 42).
With over 200 trainees taking part at a time, and all their expenses paid, the training program was expensive (Cartwright 42). Despite the high costs incurred in training, British Airways was consistently making profits. Other competing airlines at the time were surprisingly making losses, yet none of them incurred high expenses in training and development of staff (Cartwright 42). The expenses incurred by British Airways in training its staff was in turn highly compensated by the outstanding service that it provided. Consumers were willing to spend extra on a flight experience that was not being offered by any other airline. This is a demonstration that training and development of employees is a wise investment provided it is properly planned and carefully implemented (Cartwright 42).
Today, British Airways continues to use innovative techniques in their training and development programs. In an interview with CLO magazine in 2005, head of training at British Airways Janet Windeatt attested to this fact (Summerfield 1). Windeatt was tasked with ensuring that the organization’s employees who numbered well over 40,000 with approximately 5000 of them working outside of the United Kingdom were equipped to deliver excellence (Summerfield 1). To British Airways, training and development of employees is a business (Summerfield 1). Since it is a business, the company invests heavily in training as it is the means to offering the level of service that British Airways customers expect from them. Training also perpetuates a culture of excellence (Summerfield 1).
Apart from engineers and pilots whose training requirements are very technical, Windeatt ensured the provision of teaching material to employees in all departments of British Airways (Summerfield 2). British Airways has management development, professional development, customer service training and operational training that meets the stipulated standards of the airline (Summerfield 2). There are corporate initiatives that range from classroom type of training to workshops.
British Airways has embraced e-learning that constitutes approximately one-third of the training programs (Summerfield 2). E-learning allows for ease of access to training content to personnel in different locations. Most of the e-learning materials are asynchronous revision training that back up the ones on one learning sessions (Summerfield 2). Refresher training sessions are conducted after every one to three years (Summerfield 2).
British Airways’ goal has been to make their customer service wholesome. Through developing a wholesome customer service, they seek to minimize the problems that a traveler is likely to encounter while traveling (Melton and Hartline 2010, 418). Another element of customer service that is important in the airline industry is the fulfillment of the consumer value driven needs (Saks, Haccoun, and Belcourt 2011, 12). These value-driven needs entail that the client is treated in a personal and caring manner.
British Airways is ranked top among the world leading airlines in terms of excellent customer service. The ability of a company to deliver exceptional customer service lies in training and development (Saks, Haccoun, and Belcourt 2011, 15). Giving clients first-rate customer service is not easy for any organization whose primary source of business is customer service. The challenge lies in the cost of constant training and development and ensuring that all customer needs are met. The effectiveness of the techniques used in British Airways staff training will be evaluated for First Class and Business Class passengers.
- Armstrong, M. 2010, Armstrong’s essential Human Resource Management Practice, Kogan Page Ltd.
- Beardwell, J. & Claydon, T. 2010, Human Resource Management, Pearson Education.
- Cartwright, R. 2003. Implementing a training and development strategy, Capstone Publishing Ltd.
- Payne, E. 2014, from free Benson & Hedges to on board wifi: how first-class travel with British Airways has changed over the past 40 years. Daily Mail.
- Melton, H. L., & Hartline, M. D. 2010, Customer and frontline employee influence on new service development performance, Journal of Service Research, 13(4), 411-425.