Behind the scenes at British Airways. Featuring a look at the most glamorous and profitable route in BA's long-haul network, London to New York.
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British Airways is one the UK's most visible brands.
It sells Britishness as a mark of quality.
Some passengers are happy to part with small fortunes
to fly in its First Class.
A one-way fare is just over 10,000.
But in the last decade, the business has faced financial crisis.
Today, more people fly EasyJet than BA.
We all fly to the same destinations, so what can we do to stand out?
As the airline reaches a turning point, our cameras have been allowed
unique access to its inner world, from the top-level decisions...
We're not as big in China as we should be,
so getting this right is very important.
..to the daily challenges of its global operation.
552 rows back on stand to offload a passenger who's
having a panic attack.
We've been following some of the airline's 40,000 staff...
Do you know what, the pressure is on.
..as they work to meet exacting standards.
In this episode, we'll reveal how they manage their massive
You don't want to be scary to your team but, you know,
sometimes, you have to be.
..and brave the weather in New York.
This is quite severe.
We're expecting anything up to 10-12 inches of snow.
For the cabin crew, it's make or break, as they enter the final
phase of their training.
Is that the proper way to taste wine, by making that sound?
And the airline opens a new route to China.
HE SPEAKS MANDARIN
Saturday afternoon in London's Chinatown.
The airline's trying something different.
There you go - sweet taste of success.
We have to be quite selective with the cookies
because we've only got a limited number, so ideally, we'd rather give
them to people who live and work in the UK as opposed to tourists.
They're not trying to muscle in on crispy duck and takeaways.
-Do you speak Mandarin?
They're here to lure new staff to crew a new route to China.
And we are recruiting Mandarin-speaking cabin crew
for our new route to Chengdu in China starting in September.
Have you ever thought of becoming cabin crew?
-No? Can you teach me any more Mandarin?
Yes, of course! I learn you, OK? Also, teach small kids...
-..for speak some Mandarin. I is teacher.
-And tell your daughter to get in touch soon.
-Thank you, ladies. Bye.
-Thank you. Bye-bye.
Emerging from a difficult decade,
the airline's looking to the future.
And does any of your family speak Mandarin?
And for any business that wants to expand,
China is the fastest-growing market in the world.
There are now more than a million millionaires in China,
the highest concentration outside of America.
For an airline looking to fill its First
and Business Class cabins, it's a potential bonanza.
Already flying to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai,
the company's chosen Chengdu as its fourth destination in China.
At Chengdu Shuangliu Airport, 42-year-old Wyman Kan
is in charge of flying the flag for the new operation.
Looks very nice. Looks very stylish.
All spelt OK?
Yes, it's spelt OK. The fonts are OK, the wording's OK. Very nice.
A Hong Kong native but educated in Essex,
Wyman is one of the airline's most experienced airport managers.
As you can see, we're testing the fit screens as well.
BA88 is being displayed -
BA88 being the flight from Chengdu to London, and 88 is an auspicious
number in the Chinese numbering system. It signifies wealth,
so hopefully, prosperity for British Airways and for our customers.
Wyman has a challenge on his hands.
In the race to compete in the Chinese market,
the company is behind.
Lufthansa and Air France have three times the amount of seats
flying to mainland China. Even Finnair has more capacity than BA.
All our contractors,
it'll be the first time they see the aircraft and service
the aircraft, so things will probably be much more slower than normal.
With the opening of the Chengdu route just weeks away,
he urgently needs to cut through the red tape.
Doing business in Hong Kong is much more straightforward
than in Chengdu. They don't tend to think out the box as we would
do in Hong Kong, so sometimes, yes is spelt N-O!
Everything the airline does in the airport, from cleaning to
catering, from check-in to baggage, is Wyman's responsibility.
With his deputy, Benny Wong, he must also check the lounges are
up to the expectations of the airline's most particular passengers.
And he's worried that this one is not up to scratch.
And some of the food on display may challenge Western palates.
We will be sprucing up the food-offering.
At the moment, it's all very local. They have duck's tongue.
While the airline is looking to the future with Chengdu...
..no destination represents its past and present as keenly as New York.
The airline's been ferrying high-fliers to the Big Apple
since the '50s.
You'll meet people rather like yourself.
Most of them are men with an interesting job to do, and most of
them are approaching the top of the tree. Useful people to get to know!
Today, New York retains the highest concentration of billionaires
in the world, and with London not short of super-rich, either,
the airline's route across the Atlantic,
known as the Blue Ribbon, is its biggest money-spinner.
You see, it's too short, so I'll be re-tying that.
The company's top man at New York's JFK Airport is Alan Eley.
He has his own distinctive sense of style.
Pink is an iconic part of an Alan outfit. The purple's nice.
Little dotty goes a long way.
I absolutely think it's vital to bring a little
colour into the world. When I go in my wardrobe
or closet, as we say over here in the States, usually, there's
something black, there's something blue or there's something grey.
I bring the colour into the world with my personality
and then I add a tie for good measure.
Alan started as cabin crew and worked his way up
through the ranks in the company over 23 years.
I know that boys dream of being pilots. I always wanted to be
a flight attendant or a cabin crew, as we call it in England.
I always wanted to be the person interacting with the people
that are going on holiday because those people are always so happy.
I think I have quite a critical eye
and I ask all of my staff to walk around with a critical eye.
We have to be looking at everything that the customer's
going to see and experience, and also everything that our staff
are going to experience when they're in their work environment.
British Airways Terminal 7 at JFK is special.
It's the only US terminal run by a non-American airline.
With the eyes of the business very much on him,
Alan's managerial style is as fastidious as his suits.
You'll see me walking along and doing things like this.
And that is literally to just get the scuffs off the floor
because when you then step into the environment, it looks nicer.
You'll see me do that and don't think it's strange!
I feel like I'm responsible for it
and if things are not as they should be, I feel personally disappointed.
And it's not... They're not coming off, so I have to
call our maintenance providers and they'll come up and buff the floor.
Every little detail counts in an operation
so valuable to the company.
Alan's pride and joy is the Concorde Room,
Terminal 7's most exclusive lounge.
How are you? Good afternoon.
Entry's reserved for those willing to pay the price of a small car
to fly First Class.
A standard one-way fare from New York to London is just
Our customer wants to walk into an area that feels like a sanctuary
and doesn't feel like an airport.
We have the whisky bar, we have the vodka bar,
and then my personal favourite, of course, is the champagne bar.
If I was coming in here and making my choice, I think tonight,
I'd be going for the pink champagne - the Laurent-Perrier.
Of course, we have tenderloin, duck breast, sea bass,
a vegetarian option, wild mushroom risotto, which is absolutely
delicious. I had that last week.
What we ensure is that everything is made with fresh ingredients.
Customers want something fresh, simple, tasty.
The only thing missing from the Concorde Room is Concorde.
If you cast your mind back a couple of decades,
the glamorous era of flying supersonic Concorde - that would be
parked right there, so the customers would be looking out onto the
aircraft, step around the corner and board it directly from the lounge.
As the supersonic plane was only operated by Air France
and BA, Concorde offered a competitive advantage.
Being part of the Concorde fleet generates a real sense
of enthusiasm amongst the crew. The highest training standards and
keen competition make them intensely proud of their professionalism.
It gave the company a huge feeling of superiority which was
underlined throughout training at the airline's base in Cranebank.
Maggie, what do you think your main learning point was from that
I imagine it's very important to know one's individual role and the
role of one's colleagues in order to achieve the continuity of service.
But at the beginning of the new century, the era of supersonic
travel came to an end.
Air France had a disastrous crash and 9/11 caused such a decline in
the airline industry that Concorde became uneconomic to operate.
But the airline's vision of service is still taught at Cranebank,
just outside Heathrow.
These cabin crew recruits are in the fifth week of a six-week course.
Selected from thousands of hopefuls, they've made it through
the intensive safety and medical training.
What I normally do is make sure that I've got the long bit just
here in my right hand.
Now they're getting ready for a new test - customer service.
Alice Kennedy joined because of her love of planes.
I've always been an absolutely huge plane geek,
so this has just been always, like, my dream job.
For Jodie Paris, it was the sense of adventure.
I want to see the world
and what a better way to do it working for British Airways?
But to achieve their dreams, they have to prove that they can
serve the airline's most lucrative customers in its Business Class,
known as Club World.
We do have very important customers in Club World,
so if a customer asks you for something, just do it straightaway.
That will go a long way because it shows to them that you
actually listened and then you care about them and that expectation.
Earning relatively low wages,
few of the recruits would normally travel in such comfort.
I haven't actually flown in Club World,
but my sister and brother-in-law have and love it.
When I think Club World, I think premium, I think luxury.
Like Jodie said, I just think it's... It sounds posh
and you get a lot more, not just on the plane,
but obviously before, in the lounges, and things like that.
But it's vital they learn how to communicate with this
kind of customer.
You might find sometimes some resistance from customers
because they're generally not used to be told
what to do and then suddenly, they get on board an aeroplane and
we tell them that they can't smoke, they can't use their mobile phones,
they need to fasten their seat belt, they need to put the seat upright.
So it is very important how we gauge that conversation
and the tone that we use as well.
As the face of the airline, cabin crew have to meet expectations.
Discipline is key.
I'm going to take you upstairs to my office.
I just need to have a quick chat with you.
During training, any failure to meet standards, from the wrong
kind of make-up to lateness,
receives what's called a snapshot warning.
-I understand your frustration this morning.
We are well aware that there is an incident on the M25 this
morning. There was a lorry that was on fire,
so we have got quite a few people that are running late.
Because you were late, we are still going to give you a snapshot.
Because punctuality is key to British Airways.
If a recruit accrues four snapshots, they're out.
Closely under scrutiny is Jodie.
Yeah, I'm in trouble. I've got three snapshots.
Having done well in some of the medical training,
she's finding this part of the course more difficult.
I've been focused throughout this whole course. Yeah, there has
been, like, a few tiny hiccups, but not major behaviour problems,
you know? Like, I'm a good girl. I'm not a bad person.
With graduation only ten days away, Jodie can't afford to put
a foot wrong.
They go into a bit more detail about the quality of the food,
-so, for example...
-Today, trainer Lesline Grant will be introducing
the trainees to the airline's version of fine dining.
That affects the quality or the taste of the meat,
how it's actually going to taste.
What I'm saying is I'm not expecting you to
walk down the aisle and have, you know, this is
your Herefordshire beef. This is not just food. It's Club World food. No!
But I am expecting you... The expectation is there for you
to be able to describe that food to our customers effectively.
Recruits need to know what's on the menu,
where it's from and how to pronounce it.
..If it had been hung for one day...
Brioche is nice.
-Brioche. It's like chocolate chips in bread.
Pave - don't try and pronounce it -
is a chilled, rectangular mousse-based dish.
It can be served sweet or savoury.
-So it's not a cheese?
What is corn-fed chicken organic?
Basically, it's a chicken that's been fed corn.
It actually is!
At the airline, not all training happens in the classroom.
24-year-old law graduate Tom Cannell is heading to
a special posting.
I'm off to the Big Apple for a year - New York.
Tom's being groomed as the next generation of manager...
Doesn't really go with this shirt, but hey-ho.
..and he's on his way to JFK to learn from the best.
There you go - BA cabin crew!
The company's massive. They give you every opportunity to succeed.
I don't know if I'll be the next Willie Walsh,
but one day, you never know.
But even graduate trainees sometimes need a little help.
It's the folding-up that I'm not very good at,
especially with shirts, so I guess Mum will have to help me.
Come on, Mother!
-Need a hand?
-Please. Can you fold that up, please?
You got all your underwear and everything?
I think the underwear are in the wash
and Jack's probably nicked a few as well!
Jack's my brother, by the way.
On his way to his new job, Tom is flying on one of the company's
most elite services - London City Airport to JFK.
It's just saying goodbye. It's never easy, is it?
It's never easy.
With Concorde pensioned off to airplane museums, this A318 has
taken over its flight number and call sign - Speedbird 001.
It flies at half the speed, but it's as close to a private
jet as the airline can manage and boasts only 32 seats.
A return ticket on this flight will cost upwards of £3,000...
..and that means a rack of lamb to rival Tom's mother's roast.
For the sort of money these people are paying to just fly
to New York, it's incredible. It's the sort of money I dream of.
I went shopping with my parents before I come and I spent
about £500 or so, and that emptied my bank balance, pretty much.
Around 25 million passengers arrive at JFK every year.
Its latest arrival is about to meet his new boss.
-Good morning, sir. How are you?
-Nice to see you. Are you well?
-Good to see you, Tom. Very well, thank you.
When the customers come in, the lounges are right here, with the exception of the Concorde Room.
When we go up, I'll just show you...
Alan will be taking Tom under his wing as he shows him
how to run an airport.
Good morning. Kon'nichiwa. Morning, ladies. Good morning, how are you?
We'll wait a couple more moments, just in case anybody else is
going to join, but in the meantime,
-I would like to introduce Tom Cannell.
Tom's biggest challenge will be working with Alan's 500-strong team.
Many have several decades' more experience than him.
So we finally got the approval from the Port Authority to
replace the two escalators going from the departures
level down to the arrivals level.
Don't try and walk onto Jetbridge number 4 because it isn't there.
The door has to be closed for the Jetbridge to op...
To be operated. There's no-one that...
Alan's first lesson for Tom is how to handle
a roomful of New Yorkers who are not shy with their opinions.
The First Class and the Business Class baggage,
I always hear the First Class passengers say, "Oh,
"I'm expedited through Immigration but now I have to wait for this bag."
Yes, you're absolutely correct. Those cans that are designated First
Class should be the first cans off, followed by the Business Class cans.
We get the brunt of it.
I was told off royally the other day by a Business Class passenger.
They think they're standing there too long
and they do not like it. And running back and forth, First
and Business Class, trying to get them to come with you,
and some of them hesitate cos they don't know where you're taking them.
You know, your point is not only well taken, it is something
that we are absolutely aware that we need to improve significantly on.
It takes the right kind of person to have the confidence to be
able to guide one of those customers around, you know.
They guide a company with 20,000 employees, and then one of our team
has to guide them around to an area that they're not familiar with.
-Thank you. Thanks, guys.
I've been in the States now for 15 years.
It doesn't really matter how challenging things are,
I'm always going to be open and honest. It's my style.
I think that's what's brought me, taken me, through British Airways
for the last 23 years and brought me to this position.
People get what they see. I'm very, very honest,
I'm very open and I like to engage in people. People are fascinating.
Just outside London is the company's headquarters at Waterside.
-Good to see you.
-Good to see you.
-Good to see you.
-How are you?
Airline boss Willie Walsh is meeting with Chinese bankers.
Once the signing is done, I was going to hand the aircraft model to
HE SPEAKS MANDARIN
He's on a mission to strengthen ties with China
as the business eyes expansion.
It's critical for British Airways. China's the second-biggest
economy in the world. I think in terms of opportunity,
it's limitless, to be honest with you.
Already behind the competition, Willie knows how critical it is to
pull off Chengdu.
We're not as big in China as we should be,
so getting this right for British Airways is very important.
With so much at stake, the airline's determined to put the right
face on things.
-Pull forward. Your side's got to go down.
So in a Heathrow hangar, the Boeing 777 that's due to
make the first flight to Chengdu is receiving a special paint job.
So this place is called Chengdu, isn't it?
-Is it Cheng-du or Cheng-do?
The plane will be flying to China painted as the official
mascot of Chengdu - the panda.
5,000 miles away, in a Chengdu shopping centre...
..an attempt's being made to combine a sense of the airline's Britishness
with some local flavours, all mixed up in a dance spectacular.
During rehearsals, choreographer Jintar Nan is struggling
slightly to try and realise her vision.
If her dreams are realised, the end result should be
ranks of panda mascots dressed as just about anything that might
be considered British, from Harry Potter to Premiership footballers
and, inevitably, the Royal Family.
To really deliver the sell, the airline's also
drafted in its own brand ambassadors -
pilots and cabin crew who've swapped a day of flying for smiling.
The hope is the event will be
so eye-catching the Chengdu public will be inspired to take pictures
of the extravaganza and add to the event's official post on China's
version of Twitter, Weibo, with its 700 million users.
At home in the UK, the airline's been around for years,
but in China, it's just another Western brand trying to stand out.
Yeah, it went really well. Quite happy with that.
Think it all pulled off quite well. Everyone seemed to enjoy
it round here. Good crowd, good turnout, so, yeah, it was
really good. There's a lot of pandas about, though. A lot of pandas!
MOBILE PHONE RINGS
At his home in Hong Kong, the company's airport manager
for China, Wyman, is juggling setting up the new route to
Chengdu with keeping the existing operation running smoothly.
Hong Kong is the airline's foothold in China.
It's part of the colonial furniture, a legacy of empire.
It's been flying here for as long as there's been intercontinental
We're just going to see the cabin-cleaning activities.
It's Wyman's job to match British expectations with Chengdu
staff, who've limited experience of international airline standards.
Planes are actually quite filthy. 400 people confined in a tube.
They've had two meals. It's not a pleasant sight. But once
we turn this aircraft around, once it's all cleaned, it's spotless.
At Chengdu, they don't have as many international flights
as Hong Kong does, so they're not so experienced with dealing with
long-haul aircraft, and the teams are not as big as what we'd like.
That's why we have some of our people going to Chengdu to
support the cabin-cleaning teams there.
-As well as his clean-up operation...
-Welcome to Hong Kong.
..Wyman's also got a tasting for the menu for the Chengdu route.
It's being devised by chef Gwendal Hamon.
On the far end, over there, we'll have First Class, Club World
and World Traveller.
We develop three rotation of food,
so on any one flight, there would be probably more than 85 dishes.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province with a cuisine
famed for mouth-numbing pepper, pig intestines and duck's blood.
It's quite spicy.
There's a kick to this, quick kick. You put it in your mouth
and it kicks you straightaway.
Having been raised partly in China
and partly in Essex, Wyman knows the tastes of both.
I haven't found a favourite Sichuan dish yet
because I find them too hot. It's probably from my time in the UK.
My personal taste would be I would prefer a bangers and mash.
There's a lot of ginger flavour to this.
There's just a little hint of a green chilli oil.
Do you think a Chinese customer will enjoy that?
I think, to them, the taste would take some getting used to
-because of the aniseed.
-It seems to me
that we've kind of struck the right balance between having a Western and
a Chinese choice. Let's hope they can replicate this back in Chengdu.
In China, things are not always as consistent as in Hong Kong.
With only two weeks left before the launch of Chengdu, Wyman is
feeling the pressure.
You don't want to be scary to your team but, you know,
sometimes, you have to be.
I think every manager has to have a bit of
a scary streak around him to get things moving.
For an airport manager, handling stress is part of the job.
Sometimes, I have sleepless nights trying to cover all the angles.
It's part of my character, as well, to show responsibility.
It's all part of the job
and I wouldn't be doing my job correctly if I'd say I don't care.
In New York, trainee airport manager Tom is trying to dress the part.
Well, having seen Alan's dress sense, I've got a lot to live up to
so I'm trying my best here.
He's a very dapper-looking guy and dresses very smartly, so I'm
trying my best, but this is always a challenge, to get the tie right.
Nope! Take two.
But the tie is the least of Tom's problems.
With JFK suffering one of its worst winters on record,
today's not going to be an easy ride.
What I like to do is just keep updated with the National
Weather Service and see what they're forecasting.
As we go into the evening, rain and sleet before 10, blustery,
22 mile-an-hour winds and another 3-5 inches of snow.
This is quite severe.
We need to make sure that we're able to bring our aircraft in safely,
offload bags, cargo, the customers safely, and we have done some
tactical delaying of services and some tactical cancellations.
I have four flights that I've taken out of the programme today.
They won't come in from London and they will not depart from Kennedy.
Running the operation at Terminal 7 means Alan has to keep
track of all possible diversions to his planes.
'And the captain was just thinking about diverting,
'and he gave JFK a heads-up.'
There's really nothing available to him until he goes down into
probably Florida, and that does not make sense to divert into
Orlando or Miami which, for the East, currently,
are the diversion points.
'If they do divert, you could get stopped there,
'or it'll be a fuel-and-go cos there are no hotel rooms
'available for the customers or even the crew.'
With flights cancelled and delays due, it means
passengers will be looking to the team for solutions.
With the pressure on, Tom needs to prove he can take charge.
Thanks for offering coffee.
On a challenging day like today, it is critical for Tom to engage
the experts. Your success is based on engaging the people that
have been through this numerous times before.
When asking for their support, they will guide you, assist you
and help you succeed.
The only issues we may have is, subject to gate space,
weather and what runways they're landing on,
it make take an extra time coming out through the gates,
so the departures might be just a little later than we predict.
Anything else? No? Tom?
Customers are going to come in a little bit anxious,
a little bit worried,
to know whether their flights are going to depart or not.
Just reassure them, share information with them,
the big smiles, the big welcome, uniform standards, obviously.
Just make sure you're looking tiptop.
I love that expression, "tiptop". What movie is that from?
"Tiptop!" Love it.
'It's always a challenge to get the respect of people that
'a lot of the time's double my age
'and I'm managing people that are my mum and dad's age.'
Thank you for doing that. You're doing a good job.
Do you mind just letting people know about the duty-free?
'Which can be challenging at times, to get that respect.'
Everyone that works here, all the staff,
they've been through thick and thin.
Oh, really? No, I didn't hear. It's... Well.
One area I need to improve on that is toughening up
a little bit. I probably sometimes am too nice.
-You are going to have to be tough here.
-And you're going to have to be resilient.
There are going to be times
when you're going to have to take a probably tougher stance than
-you are comfortable with or that's natural to...
..you know, to the way that you deal and interact with people.
While Alan is trying to toughen Tom up, at Waterside, the mood is
lightening in cabin crew training. It's time for a drink.
Trainer Nadine Phelan is introducing them to the wine list -
the airline's secret weapon when it comes to giving a sense of class.
So our session this afternoon is our Premium Service wine master class.
It can be overwhelming for some of our delegates.
They may not have had that much experience tasting wine.
Perhaps it's not a drink of their choice.
The course is testing all the senses as the recruits try to guess
the differences between the various kinds.
Look at the colour. Tell me, what colour do you think this is?
-So that should already start to narrow down what grape
variety you think it is.
-Alice is enjoying getting her nose stuck in...
-Thing is, the more you smell it, the more the...
-It smells different now.
Yeah, the flavours change.
..but 20-year-old Jodie's finding the etiquette confusing.
Is that the proper way to taste wine, by making that sound?
Jodie, there is no proper taste, it's however you feel comfortable.
But you and Lesline both did it.
I don't like wine. I'm interested in it but not the drinking side.
It'd be nice to, you know, be able to recommend wines to customers
and be able to say, like, this wine would complement
this food and, like, learn about dessert wines and things like that.
But wine tasting and drinking wine's not for me, no.
I want you to try and smell the bouquet of the wine,
so try and keep the glass very still.
Jodie's not the only one finding the wine a bit overwhelming.
Well, I'm a bit weird and I drink red wine with Diet Coke.
-Try it. Don't knock it!
-That is so weird.
-It is beautiful!
So hedge your bets, lady and gents. What do we think?
You think it's the Merlot?
That's a Sauvignon, I think, but it's quite sharp.
But it is actually a New World Cabernet Sauvignon.
It's the evening rush at JFK
and the delays caused by the snow are biting.
Do you need a hand? Are you OK?
Have a nice flight.
Tom has to keep people moving
and bring calm to a potentially chaotic situation.
Yeah, John, is there any... How come it says "boarding" on there?
Does it always do that?
Despite the severity of the cold weather...
..the ground staff outside take it in their stride to do
everything possible to prevent further delays and stop
the situation for Tom's passengers inside getting more heated.
Weather conditions determine how long a plane can sit after
it's been de-iced and anti-iced and still be safe to leave.
Ladies and gentlemen, you can use all gates for Fast Track.
Anyone for Fast Track, Business, First?
Are you... Yeah, absolutely sir.
-Have a nice flight, sir.
Yes, sir, just to confirm that I've inspected your
aircraft after de-icing and everything is satisfactory.
Dealing with the snow may be new to Tom,
but for the New Yorkers, it's all part of the job.
We get, you know, six or seven inches of snow
and nobody blinks an eye, you know, it's just... Everybody keeps going.
At Heathrow, everything kind of grinds down to a stop.
Whatever the weather, no incident is too big or small to escape
Miguel, this is Alan.
I'm at the entrance for the duty-free shop just at the top
of the escalators and somebody's spilled potato chips on the floor.
Thank you so much. It comes all the way out.
-JCM will be coming as well...
..so if you can get the worst, that'd be really appreciated.
-Thanks a lot. Have a good evening.
As the night wears on, Tom turns to the
experience of the terminal's veterans, like Linda Strang.
Do you mind just doing a quick announcement for the 182,
just to keep people up-to-date on times?
Oh, I said midnight. Is that the most up-to-date?
-OK, so I'll do another one.
Yeah, if you could, with regards to connections in London.
You know the job.
Ladies and gentlemen, we do apologise,
but due to late arrival of the inbound aircraft,
our new departure time is approximately midnight.
The aircraft is here...
'18 years in reservations sitting killed my back.'
Ten and a half years out here has done my legs and my feet in.
And the whole 28 and a half years together has done my head in!
There'll be nothing left! They'll just toss me out
when it's all over but I feel like the time has been well spent.
I enjoy it. I like my job. I like what I do.
I like dealing with people.
And I think that's the challenge here,
when you're very time-constricted and you've only got them
there for, you know, ten, 15 seconds. Luckily, I talk fast.
And you have a little bit of a play with them, a little bit of give
and take. The ones that don't want to, you just let them go,
but most people, really, they want to be dealt with as an individual.
Give me a kiss! Give me a kiss!
And JFK has no shortage of characters passing through.
Weirdness comes and goes every day. You can't stop it.
Either the passenger wants to be helped or they're just weird.
Excuse me one second, please. Ticketing, Joanne.
Over the last 18 years, veteran Joanne Brown has had to deal
with just about everything.
Tonight it's the turn of
Mr and Mrs Pierce, who've missed their connection.
A lovely girl like you and I'm way over there?
-Who is this lady to you?
-That's my wife.
Watch it, then! Watch it! None of that. Right, Sandra?
-You got it.
-All right. Well, now, let's see.
So we're going for a wedding and we're meeting my sister
-and her husband.
-What day is the wedding?
The wedding, thank God, isn't right away.
Hello, this is Joanne from British Airways
ticketing at JFK. I have two passengers here.
They've missed their connection and I need them to be rebooked.
For Joanne, the benefit of experience is knowing
the right calls to make.
This woman is fantastic!
I mean, you can't even imagine what she has done.
When you arrive tomorrow, just tell them
that your bags will be downstairs. Just show them this.
'If the person is in trouble,'
you ease them first, ease their minds at first,
so you can let them know that you basically are here to help them.
Once they know that, they kind of relax.
When they realise that you're just there to help them,
they're kind of easy-going and they'll smile anyway.
And then when you absolutely do help them, sugar on top!
That's lovely. Have a very good trip, sir.
At Heathrow's Terminal 5, the first passengers to fly
direct from London to Chengdu are checking in.
-How are you today?
-Good, thank you.
Good, that's lovely. Thank you very much, Mr Brown.
Just take yourself down the escalator.
Do take a look at the front of the aircraft, sir, cos it has
a panda's face. Yeah, that's lovely. Thank you.
Joining the flight will be airline boss Willie Walsh.
-Good afternoon, Mr Walsh.
-How are you?
-I'm fine, thank you.
-So I'm off to Chengdu.
It's his role to add a little clout to proceedings.
-Excited about this flying?
-Yeah, should be good, yeah.
With the Chinese tourist market worth millions for the UK,
it's vital that plans go smoothly.
The 5,000-mile flight will take 11 hours
and will run three times a week between London and Chengdu.
At the other end, Chengdu is waiting to greet the panda plane
with a characteristic layer of smog.
This is the inaugural flight's parking bay. We've been
assigned 104. There's only two parking bays at this airport
that can accommodate wide-bodied aircraft and this is one of them.
Wyman and his deputy, Benny, are keen to make sure that absolutely
nothing goes wrong with the aircraft's arrival.
On the plane, their boss, Willie,
is accompanied by a pack of journalists.
Attending the red-carpet event are the brand ambassadors,
immaculately turned out and smiling, of course.
And the obligatory pandas are also being lined up.
So one panda, two pandas.
I think it's best to have the pandas there.
Yeah, but the problem is we've got two.. One panda, two panda,
two panda, one. It would work better with one at either end.
When the plane arrives, it has to turn around in two hours to
fly its first load of Chengdu tourists to London, but Wyman's
got a problem - the internet's faulty so check-in's not working.
Currently, the systems are down. Trying to resolve it.
I may need to call London if we can't get access to our
check-in system. Obviously, it's not a good time to
have your systems outage when the flight's two hours away.
With his boss about to fly in, it's the last thing Wyman needs.
Three days from graduation, it's the customer service
exam for the cabin crew recruits.
My hat and waistcoat are in the car.
-Your hat and waistcoat are in the car?
OK, can you go and get them?
Today, they'll be tested on all they've learned about food
and drink over the last two weeks.
Go back to the galley every time
and just cross it off and then say, is everyone happy? Right, what are we doing next?
Trainer Si Jones will be examining.
The group with Alice, Sophie
and Nikkita are just about to go in and do a Club Europe service for us.
So John is your child. He's ordered a child meal.
It's not been catered, so you're not happy about this.
The rest of the group are acting as customers for them.
And then we've got a nervous flier. Amy, you're going to be nervous.
And throw a few snags in there and, again, it's just to see,
have they got what it takes to be British Airways cabin crew?
Do they understand Club Europe service?
How do they talk to our customers? Are they using premium language?
Are they presenting our drinks in the appropriate way?
Crikey, what is that?
That's a Chardonnay.
This is really about, have they listened for the last
couple of weeks and taken on board everything we've said?
Hello, there. Welcome on board today. Follow the aisle down there,
take a left and you're on the row there on the left.
Thank you very much.
One of the team's playing the role of a blind passenger.
Hi there, Mrs Taylor, it's Alice and Sophie here.
Can I offer you anything to drink today?
Erm, yes, please, I would love to have a Diet Coke.
OK, I'm just going to put the Coke
-to the two o'clock position there, OK?
With so much riding on it, Alice is nervous.
'Honestly, we thought it was a disaster,'
so we are slightly anxious now as to what is coming next
and what the outcome will be.
In another room, the trainers assess the performance.
'She looks the part.'
'In the cabin she had a perfect, premium language I thought,'
I thought she was really good with the customers.
What I would like Alice to work on is some of her terminology...
She said to the customer,
-"Would you like a Diet Coke or a full-fat Coke?"
So where I see Alice, I would probably put down as developing,
not for the way she looks,
but again for the terminology she's using in the cabin.
Alice has passed the test.
Yes, we are.
But Jodie has been summoned to an important meeting.
'Jodie was asked on four occasions to reapply lipstick.
'So if a customer had seen Jodie
'looking the way she was presenting herself,'
it doesn't come across as if she's taken care in her appearance.
And if she's not taking care in her appearance,
which is just a basic standard,
then where are we going to be when we're on board the aircraft?
I've been trying so hard.
If the instruction was clear,
I would have put it on before I left the classroom.
'It's not so much about the uniform,
'it's more looking at the bigger picture of things.'
Is Jodie ready to go online yet?
Is she ready to be actually with our customers?
Three days to go.
'We do pride ourselves on our standards
'and we know our customers come to expect a lot from us'
at British Airways, so we don't want to come across as being harsh,
we don't want to come across as being strict,
we just want to maintain those standards
that we've come to expect from all of our colleagues.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, Jodie hasn't met the criteria
required for British Airways cabin crew.
Almost there, but just not quite.
-All right, look after yourself.
Five and a half weeks after she arrived as a trainee,
and without returning to the classroom, Jodie's departing.
Her dreams, for now, on hold.
It's a new morning at JFK and the snow seems to be holding off.
It's welcome news for Alan.
Thanks a lot, Anita.
I'll see you soon, see you at noon, bye.
We expect to be able to operate all of our services this evening
and hopefully on schedule.
Having earned his stripes,
Tom's being left to handle the operation this evening.
-I am indeed. How's it going?
Yeah, yeah, great. Just had the six o'clock
and now I'm just going to go through, around check-in,
Premium area, just check on that and then go through to the 112.
-OK and the 112, we've got a passenger off-load?
It seems to have gone through pretty well.
-Yeah, it's running smoothly at the minute, which is...
-Hopefully it stays that way.
-It will, it will. Trust me, it will.
-You've got Linda here, you've got everybody else.
-Yeah, exactly, yeah.
-Call me if you need anything.
-I will do.
-OK, have a good night.
-Have a good evening.
Oh, anyone in Fast Track, would you like to come through?
We're just going to bring Fast Track through, all right?
Sorry about the wait. If you're travelling in World Traveller it's this queue, OK.
'Alan's very knowledgeable, he's been in the job a long time,
'always looked the part.'
One thing he's definitely taught me is you set down the rules
from the start and you set down what your expectations are from staff,
so at the end of the day they know where the line is
and they know not to cross the line,
and they know that I'm passionate about customer service
and Alan is passionate about customer service, so we share that.
I try, anyway. I'm not as dapper as Alan.
I always say that, but I give it a go.
Because of the previous night's cancellations
there are more passengers tonight than originally expected.
-Originally we weren't, but then we were.
-It's a pleasure.
Tom has to explain to some customers that the seats
they booked aren't available.
Unfortunately, because the loads are busy in the class that you're in,
what they have to do is sometimes downgrade people.
-I'm sure that's already been explained to you?
If I were you, there's snow forecast in the next hour or so...
-So it could disrupt more planes?
-I'd...I'd take that option.
The really annoying thing is that my best friend
-was the skipper on the flight...
-..I was supposed to be on.
-Oh, no! Thank you very much.
A lot of passengers are stressed.
There's all the time constraints. You're just dealing with so much
and often you have to deal with it very quickly.
Maybe there are people out there that want easy jobs
that they can coast through. I never did.
I don't have kids, I don't want kids, this is my baby.
-I've got a gentleman here...
..who says that he was promised a seat in World Traveller Plus.
-That is unlucky.
-Not ideal. Is it this gentleman here?
Yeah, what I'll do... Hi, sir, how you doing?
Very sorry for the inconvenience,
we'll make sure you're looked after, OK? Cheers.
It may be a stressful business,
but Tom seems to be getting into the swing of it.
APM to bag room, just wanted to say good job
on the 172, getting those bags on, thanks for that.
All in all, that was very smooth. Boarding team did a great job.
As always, they're smiling, welcoming customers,
which is what we want, and the customers look pleased,
so at the end of the day it was a good job done.
I can't do it.
The panda plane has arrived in Chengdu.
The new route has taken ten months to plan
and more than 100 people to pull it off.
For Willie, it's a grand entrance in China.
While his boss poses for the cameras,
Wyman is focused on the turn-round.
As the press pack moves on and with his internet problems over,
it's time for Wyman and his new team to ready the plane
for its Chengdu passengers.
The cleaners are on, catering's coming on now and
this is where the real work starts.
It's just a sense of relief to see the aircraft land,
Willie come off, and he looked happy
so, you know, if he's happy, we're all happy.
You look about ten years younger than you did about half an hour ago.
Yeah, things build up, you see,
and there's the climax and there's the anticlimax.
But the festivities aren't over yet.
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening
and thank you for joining us tonight.
There's time for a gala dinner to woo the city's dignitaries
with every British cliche in the book.
You know, when you look at BA,
Britishness is a very important part of its DNA.
We are a British company.
We espouse British traditions, promote Britishness.
And, you know, the Chinese people are loving it.
I've never seen a Chinese person blowing bagpipes!
-You always see... Learn something new each day.
Sadly for Wyman the only thing not British is the food.
I was hoping for a bit of a roast,
I've had too much Sichuan food these two weeks.
-What were you wanting, fish and chips?
-Yeah, pie and chips.
At the airline's headquarters,
the remaining cabin crew recruits have something to celebrate.
Welcome to British Airways mixed-fleet cabin crew
and congratulations for completing your six weeks' initial training.
Are we ready? Look at the cameras.
This whole course has been quite a challenge for me.
Just with everything else...
Honestly, it really has been such an achievement.
I'm laughing and crying at the same time.
But the sense of pressure won't necessarily stop here.
There's so many people that want this job.
There's so many people that this is their, you know, their dream.
So I don't think I'll be looking over my shoulder,
but I certainly won't be like I was at other airlines -
can't be bothered putting my doughnut in, so it'll be a ponytail today -
it's not going to happen.
I'm just so relieved.
There are times on the course where you think,
"Are we ever going to get to the end?"
I can't believe it's all done.
So, yeah, it's just looking forward to the future now.
Two days later and Alice's plane-spotting dreams
have become a professional reality.
Her first flight as cabin crew is to Vienna.
At Heathrow, as one flight leaves, another arrives.
At Terminal 5, a load of Chengdu tourists have just landed.
They're the end result of all of Wyman's hard work.
A lot of challenges along the way but we've managed to overcome it,
those challenges, and we've come out quite...very well, I would say.
I was schooled in the school of hard knocks.
I think that every business needs to be flexible enough to change,
to remain competitive, to remain profitable,
and if that means switching your focus from one city to the next,
one area to the next, I think you have to be nimble.
'Chengdu is the start of a new era for British Airways.'
Ten years from now, I'll be very disappointed if BA, you know,
hasn't opened at least another four or five,
maybe even in six cities in China.
In London, the Chengdu tourists stop for a meal in Chinatown.
In the coming years,
part of BA's and the UK's growth will depend
on their appetite for all things British.
Next time, the challenges of being based
at the world's most congested airport.
Actually, sir, it's not all right
because the flight's closed for check-in.
Apparently, there's a firearm inside this bag.
An unexpected find in baggage causes problems.
All...all the delays cost the company money.
And the airline trains its first new cadet pilots for a decade.
To fall at the last hurdle would be a nightmare
and it would be sort of career over.
For 50 years London to New York has been the most glamorous and profitable route in BA's long-haul network. This was the route made famous by Concorde, and even today BA's JFK terminal caters for more of the rich and famous than anywhere else.
This looks at the heart of BA's New York operations to discover what it takes to keep the 28 flights a day running smoothly on this all-important route, even as the worst winter on record causes cancellations and delays.
At the other extreme, BA is opening a new route to the Chinese city of Chengdu. China is a key new market, but BA is well behind its rivals and having to learn fast how to cope with the unique challenges of operating in mainland China.
Back at Heathrow, the cabin crew trainees reach the moment of truth. Will they all make it through the course or will some of them learn the hard way that they aren't quite what BA considers the right stuff?