Traditional v New Models

I’m going to break one of my golden rules today and publicly criticise.

I’ve thought long and hard about it but decided the lesson cannot be communicated without highlighting the desperate decline of what used to be a much trusted traditional brand and how, in its attempt to compete with the new models, it is sinking still further.

Last week I flew BA economy to Geneva to attend a friend’s wedding. My expectation was low, (having flown with BA a lot over the last decade I’ve come to expect very little), but I’m afraid they’ve sunk to a new, deeper level. When the trolley “service” arrived at my row I asked for a cup of coffee and as it was “served” was told “£2.45 please”. To say I was surprised would be an understatement, over the last few years I’ve seen the catering cut back, bit by bit, but this was the first time I was required to pay for a coffee on a BA flight. The cabin crew member, seeing my expression said, “it changed in January…I know it’s awful, so many passengers complain.” Things then got worse. When I handed over a £5 note she said “I’m sorry, we don’t take cash, cards only, we’ve been told we’re not to be trusted with cash.” This was clearly a line of patter she has developed and yet what went through my mind is that if the crew can’t be trusted with my cash should I trust them with my life in the event of an “incident”?

After the wedding I’d planned to stay on for a few days but unfortunately something cropped up and I needed to change my arrangements and fly home a day early. I went onto the BA website and was quoted £1,300 to change two economy tickets! I called Gemma, my travel agent, and she confirmed this was their best deal. Now I expected a surcharge, and a stiff one at that, but £650 extra each for a one way flight?!

Gemma got on the case and came back with EasyJet, speedy boarding, guaranteed seats, 3 bags in the hold for £290 each – still not cheap but by contrast a no brainer decision. And on the flight home I came to a realisation that has an impact for many traditional estate agents. If the airline industry is anything to learn from, then the new models have been better at developing their experience by learning from the traditional models than the other way round.

On the EasyJet flight I had more legroom than the outbound BA flight, a wider choice of food and drink options (to be fair all charged for), a much more friendly check in service and inflight crew who seemed happy and enjoying their work. With priority check in and boarding too, plus a seat choice at the front of the aircraft, I was off the plane and driving home inside 35 minutes compared to the one hour on BA. All in all a much better experience from the “low cost operator” than the “traditional, premium brand”.

The EasyJet of old is unrecognisable. The scrum on the bus, sprint to the steps, fight to get the seats, awful decor, remote airports – all of this has gone. And whilst the prices are lower than BA, it’s not by much, but even if there was parity I would now actively choose them over their traditional rival.

There’s a lot of noise on the online forums of how the new models don’t provide service that’s comparable to the traditional; inference that they cut corners or worse that they do the customer a disservice and all of this sounds very familiar from the early days of EasyJet, etc. But here’s the thing, whether it’s true or not, the new airline models adapted, they learned that it’s price and service and yes, these can be delivered together to a level. On the other hand, many of the traditional airlines have been forced down the road of price reductions and married these with service cuts to the point that they’ve now, in the case of BA, ended up delivering less and charging more. I predict the same for many estate agents but it doesn’t have to be this way. People will still pay a premium for service, and often a disproportionately higher one. So BA, let me check a bag in for free, give me a cup of coffee on the house and trust your people to take my cash if I want anything else. And traditional estate agents, answer the phone, reply to my emails, treat me as an individual and remember it’s “people, not property” and you’ll be fine.

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