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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Open Letter to Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Dear Mr. Walsh,

I felt compelled to write to you one last time as I believe there is a dire need to remind you of your words from British Airways 2009 Annual Report, as your airline’s customer service continues to sink to new and hitherto unimaginable lows. “We will not let this crisis compromise our long-term goal – to create a world-leading global premium airline with a reputation for being the very best at meeting its customers’ needs.” Everybody makes mistakes but your staff’s attitude and lack of care, concern and pure arrogance after the poor experience we had is abhorrent and led me to make the decision never to fly BA again. However, BA again started courting me for my business a few months ago through numerous emails, letters and offers promising a new and vastly improved customer service and experience. It was this promise to woo back the countless customers’ it has no doubt lost over the last few years that prompted me to make one last effort to resolve the matter.

Once again I have had no joy from your Customer Service department. I corresponded via your website’s customer complaint mechanism, and initially Mr. B, from BA Customer Relations (as in 2006) sent me a response and then again there was complete silence when it came to actually resolving my issues. And this upon my supplying both clarification of the facts, and the supporting documents he requested; boarding cards and credit card statement, with e-ticket#, as proof of purchase (Fax dated: 2/2/2010).

In short, I never received what Mr. B himself promised me by way of apology in 2006, mileage credit to my wife’s account, nor did I get the refund/partial credit owed me from travel completed in 2005.

In summary our experience in 2005 is as follows: my wife and I were travelling New York-London-Dubai-London-New York with one full fare Business Class and one Premium Economy ticket. BA messed up our reservations causing us to miss our flight out of NY, then promised to upgrade my wife from London to Dubai, as there was no extra seat available in Business on the next flight, nor was my pre-booked aisle seat that I had on the original flight; so I too downgraded to economy from NY-London (and was promised a refund of the fare difference, which I was told would be automatically credited to my credit card within 60-90 days). Then your staff in London refused to honour the upgrade promise made to us by your staff in New York. Upon my seeking assistance from your London staff and getting the run around, frustrated, I finally asked who I needed to speak with in BA to help me, I was told, and I quote: “there is nobody in this airline that can help you.”

Sadly and truthfully, my expectation for resolution at this stage is virtually zero from both you and your airline, but I feel that in the end it is unhappy customers like me remaining silent that allow companies like British Airways to continue charging high premiums, while delivering subpar quality and service. Most importantly, our silence allows you to continue to treat your customers like cattle and take our business for granted. So consider this my way to stop turning my head and looking the other way, allowing companies like yours to continue the pursuit of profits at the expense of customers and everything else that matters. With this open letter, I am going to make every effort to ensure that the world is made aware of our less than poor experience and encouraged to do the same, through my personal blogs, Facebook, Twitter and all the various public and travel forums and discussions I actively participate in.

In my opinion British Airways, over the last decade has squandered its well earned reputation as “The World’s Favourite Airline” and become the “World’s Worst Airline,” and this from a customer who for years remained steadfastly loyal to your airline in the face of increased and better competitive options becoming available.


Mr. Vaish

NOTE posted on 4th December 2010: I got a response from BA one month after sending this letter, and responded ( and of course have heard nothing back.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Up In Smoke

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
Winston Churchill

There are things that are really and truly hard to give up, and then there is quitting smoking. Without a doubt the hardest thing I have done in my life. This post chronicles my journey and offers to serve as a pat on my back. I feel I deserve one, for kicking a habit that experts say is harder to kick than heroin addiction. That, in my book, deserves a self-congratulatory blog post. That said, this post is also dedicated to all those people who are trying, have tried or want to try to quit smoking. And before you get any ideas, I want to be clear at the outset that my intention is not to encourage anyone to quit smoking. I am not one of those irritating born again ex-smoker zealots who goes around preaching the health benefits of being smoke free. Or, worse yet, someone who feels compelled to shove down your throat the ills of smoking, at every opportunity they get. For those people who have absolutely no desire to kick the habit, I say, “smoke on, and let the nicotine flow!” However, to those who have not yet tried it, I will say don’t ever – the early joys are not worth the price you pay later in life, and I have witnessed this first hand.

I started smoking when I was fifteen years old for two simple reasons. First, it made my Bacardi and coke taste better and second, all the girls in school that I wanted to hang out with liked to hang out with boys who smoked. Of course, it helped that in those days you could smoke on the London Underground platform (no joke), buses, movie theaters and pretty much anywhere you could find a light. And more than anything else I actually enjoyed every drag of my cigarette, to the point that after the first month I no longer cared about looking cool anymore. I guess I was hooked to the physical addiction and this went far beyond the social ritual that came along with the cigarettes. For the next twenty-one years I enjoyed every moment of it, so much so, that people routinely told me that I looked like I was born to smoke because I appeared so happy and natural doing it. I realise this should not make me feel proud, but I did. I was never one of those people who ever wanted to or tried to quit smoking. Actually, I read somewhere in my teens that if you quit around the age of thirty-five, you can stop, and sometimes even reverse, the damage to your lungs. Whether it was true or not did not really matter, it was good enough for me. Besides at the age of sixteen, the word thirty not only felt like a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away, but also a few lifetimes away. So my decision was made; I would live life to the fullest, smoking, drinking and doing everything else my heart desired until my mid-thirties.

There was one time in college that I did quit smoking. It was based on a challenge issued by someone who did not believe my little theory, and more importantly found totally incredulous the fact that I believed I would simply be able to drop such a powerful addiction at a time of my choosing. Now, you should also know that I was no longer a causal smoker by this stage (Mom, please don’t read the rest of this paragraph.). I was smoking more than one pack a day at the time. Crazy, I know, but easy to do when you are partying 24 hours a day, and living on 1-2 hours sleep a night. Not being one to back down from a good challenge, especially one that entailed testing my will power; I not only offered to quit smoking for two months but also threw in the added difficulty of doing it during the most stressful time known to a student – end of semester exams. That same day I finished my open pack and started my two-month long tribulation against all the odds. I will not say it was easy but luckily for me I had a few things working in my favour. I am a Leo, love winning, and had been smoking for a short five years. I even carried my trusty Zippo around with me for the entire time, lighting everyone else’s cigarette and anything else I could find. The two months passed and I had won with relative ease, much to the chagrin of my challenger and the delight of my friends. As I celebrated my victory by getting ready to sample the pleasures of my first post challenge cigarette, my girlfriend at the time asked me the most ludicrous question – “Since you quit for two months, and at a time you most needed your addiction, why not just stop smoking altogether?” Women.

Fast forward to August 2006, I had been smoking for a grand total of twenty-one years (with only that two month break), and found myself suddenly staring my thirty-sixth birthday in the face, and showing little sign of being able to quit. My wife was one of the people who was in on my little plan of quitting ‘around the age of thirty-five’ and was also beginning to doubt I ever would be able to kick this habit. Turns out she was not the only one; my Doctor, my mother and my entire trusty friend circle seemed to have serious doubts, I realised, when they all began to suggest taking a new miracle drug called Chantix to fulfill my self professed promise. As much as I hate getting help from anyone, I am even more skeptical of brain altering drugs. I believe that if you want to do something, you have to make up your mind and just do it. For me this is the only real and lasting way and failure is also not an option for a Leo. So I decided to move to plan B. I knew I wanted to and had even made up my mind to do it, so the only thing that remained was finding a way to wean my body off the physical nicotine addiction, without the aid of drugs or patches. So I turned it into a challenge to myself and decided to find out what the most basic amount of nicotine my body needed to survive was. I started by cutting down the number of daily cigarettes, from 20 to 10 over a period of three months. At 10 I was doing perfectly fine with no crazy cravings. So I moved it to the next level and decided to smoke only when I was really, really dying to have one. As it turns out, my cravings that I could not live without were satisfied by 4 cigarettes a day; two in the morning, one after lunch and one after dinner. That was it. Just 4 measly cigarettes a day; I knew I could beat my addiction and have been completely (not even a drag) smoke free since 7th June 2007.