“Good night, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite”, is a common phrase you tell children at night before they go to sleep and I’m sure you’ve said it many times yourself. But have you ever come across those mean little creatures? I hope you haven’t as they really are nasty. Zane Selkirk from California recently experienced the little biting creatures first hand. But not in some scabby hotel room, nor in a run-down backpacker, no, she got bitten on two occasions on British Airways flights.
Zane, outraged by the ignorance of the British Airways staff after reporting the issue, created a website called ba-bites.com. She welcomes her visitors by writing that
This small site was built after two horrendous flights taken in January and February of 2011 on British Airways. During the first, I turned on my light to find bugs crawling on my blanket and a bedbug-blood-spattered shirt. On the return journey, I left my 10-hour flight to find my body covered with 90 bug bites. The worst part was the nonexistent customer service throughout the 10-day ordeal.
The website then lead to additional media attention from the Financial Times last week to The Sydney Morning Herald of today who reports that BA now even grounded one Boeing 747 due to the infestation. Exclusive to LateDeparture, we got hold of Zane and were able to ask here a few additional questions:
Zane, LateDeparture discovered the original story in the Financial Times. How did the whole thing started to get media attention?
I officially started sending public traffic to the site on Tuesday evening. I sent the story out to friends and family and asked them to share with their friends, and also made an announcement on Twitter. In addition, I emailed some major news outlets on late Tuesday, early Wednesday – although that list did not include the Financial Times.
The site was already gaining traction early Wednesday thanks to a couple of key people taking a really active role in getting the story out there to their contacts. By before noon on Wednesday, the Financial Times had already tracked me down after seeing the buzz on Twitter. They had identified the story as something they expected to go viral, so to get ahead of it conducted a quick interview with me later that day and the story was published online by the following morning.
The hope in building ba-bites.com at all had always been to get enough people to see it to create a public conversation about bedbugs on airlines, but I was surprised (and very happy) to see how quickly that actually happened.
In the article it says you got frustrated that no one believed you. Do you think this is a British Airways issue?
I don’t want to speculate about BA more generally. What I do know is that my personal experience with BA was inexcusable.
If BA has bedbugs, all airlines have bedbugs. The problem is that while there has been a very public conversation about bedbugs being a problem in hotels, schools and other public places, the fact that bugs are on planes has largely been ignored. While it’s not reasonable for airlines to be completely bedbug free, they must be held accountable for acknowledging these types of customer reports and handling them in a thorough, customer-friendly way.
Did BA reach out to you for a personal apology or how did the episode continue after your success with the website and the media attention?
I was contacted by both the Financial Times and the Daily Mail early on Thursday to say that they had quotes from BA that the airline had apologized to me. In reality, I did not receive an apology from BA until sometime after they’d told the press they’d apologized.
One of my primary issues with my experience was the fact that I was literally treated as a liar by multiple people on their staff. Yet, their big talking point around this scandal is that they “take reports of bedbugs very seriously.” How can they be “taking reports seriously” if their stated policy is that unless you complain on board and have insects in hand to show the staff, they refuse to actually acknowledge any issue? Before press had contacted BA they hadn’t bothered to acknowledge – much less, I have to assume, investigate – my report of bug bites from the second flight.
I have not heard from them again since the press picked up the story
And finally, Zane, since you seem to travel a lot, what would you change on the ground or in the air to make air travel more pleasant in general?
Doing customer service well is the single most important thing that an airline can invest in to make travel more pleasant. Airlines have been pushed so far down the road of cost savings that they’ve completely lost sight of the fact that at the end of the day they’re still dealing with people. Do I enjoy having my knees jammed into the seat in front of me in standard economy seats on some airlines? No way. Do I love being able to lie down between deluxe meals of filet mignon in First? Of course. But the thing is, a flight attendant (or other airline agent on the ground) can single-handedly make or break either of those experiences. It doesn’t matter what you spend on your cabins or what freebie you dangle in front of me: If your staff doesn’t treat me like a human being, I won’t have a good experience.
Thanks a lot, Zane, for your time!
[Image composed by LateDeparture with source pictures from Wikipedia – some rights reserved]