Unheralded, which sadly seems to be a British Airways trademark, Heathrow”s major carrier is making tremendous progress in the 21st century of the Internet. The introduction of e-ticketing (this represents now well over 50% of all passenger business with a goal to make it 100% by the year end) has made for enormous savings with printing costs but perhaps even more important the time saved by staff, typically with putting paper into machines, reconciliations, and even the discontinuation of sending of tickets in the post. It all uses time and resources. The latest innovation, undergoing trails at Edinburgh, are self-printed boarding passes, part of BA.com (another secret which is gradually creeping out). These are printed with a bar code on your computer, scanned as you go through security and further scanned at the gate. The saving in terms of queuing at check-in (and in actual check-in personnel) is not quantifiable but is very obvious to the passenger who is looking for seamless travel through the airport. It is not all good news in getting rid of administration costs. BA admit that soon, even for domestic flights, some form of identity will be necessary and when that happens even those (budget) carriers who already have this in place will have (or be ordered by the CAA/government) to check boarding pass against ID at the gate, as is the case already with international flights. The new check-in system will also be geared up for passengers with luggage who will have a quick drop off facility. The facility will make BA even quicker than Ryanair, who pride themselves for their innovation and simple practices. Whilst Ryanair is ticketless you still have to go to the desk to collect your pass where their procedures can be very slow and laborious especially whilst they check your luggage for weight (an industry minimum 15kg) and for size.
British Airways says that what it calls its customer enabled strategy should be worth an annualised ”100m to the company. More than three million fares have been removed and some 3,000 rules simplified to three basic types. It makes it easier for everyone.
From a very slow start in the world of the Internet British Airways claims that 55% plus of its shorthaul leisure business is now booked on line with all Executive Club transactions available on BA.com. The Internet home page of BA is now selling five times as many tickets than the phone with revenue tripling from ”5m per week to ”15m in 18 months. This is clearly having an enormous effect on cash flow and will even more so as long haul passengers, with much higher fares than domestic and European sectors, change to booking on the net. With interest rates at their current low numbers people don”t mind so much in what is effectively lending money to the airline for a period before they travel.
With the Internet from your desktop BA.com users now have five languages to choose from, a choice of where you want to sit on the aircraft, make special requests for meals and disabled assistance and be advised on the terminal for your flight, the baggage check-in point and minimum time these must be deposited before departure. And even the actual boarding closure time. There is a sales pitch for upgrading, and why not, and you can change the flight or request a refund. No doubt those behind the scenes are now planning for everything to be easily read on a wireless PDA (Personal Data Administrator) in the terminal.
BA”s ”Future Size and Shape” appears to be delivering and e-commerce is just one aspect of the whole enterprise. Whether the travelling public is aware of what is going on is a very big question but at least though the bottom line the work being put in over the last three years is beginning to show results. Passenger load factor for 2003 rose marginally from 70.4% to 71.9%. However the actual number of boarding dropped from 40m to 38m. At the end of the day what BA needs to do is generate more passengers and more income per passenger. Compared with its continental rivals it seems to be en route reporting a pre-tax profit of ”125m for the three months to 31 December 2003 against a pre-tax profit of ”25m for the same period last year.
British Airways in the post-Concorde era is getting lean, not too mean in what it offers, and is certainly into the Internet. Let us hope that the staff have learnt the lessons from the Black Friday of last July. Absenteeism is still running at twice the national average at a company who traditionally offer very good work terms and high pay. BA looks like it is virtually there, with just a little way to go. The final push is needed.