Reputation Wars - British Airways vs Virgin Atlantic

It’s been a while, but I am pleased to give you the next in the series of Reputation Wars, where we take two big brand names and compare their online reputation. I have changed the format from the last one, which was our comparison of McDonald’s and Burger King because this time we’re comparing two companies with generally better reputations.

Given the recent furore around the collaboration between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic in setting fuel charges I thought these two giants would make a good comparison.

Scoring a company’s online reputation.

To compare these brands we have looked at the first 20 results for a search for their name. I am comparing the results returned from (since they are both British companies, and this is where the fine was handed out) and have taken screenshots so you can play along at home.

We looked at each of the results and put them into one of three categories. From a reputation perspective we think there are 3 types of results.

  1. Those that the company in question owns
  2. Those that the company doesn’t own but are either positive, neutral or not about the company
  3. Those that the company doesn’t own but are negative.

Our favourite quote that we trot out on occasions such as these is:

7 out of 10 British consumers will not click through to a company’s website if search results contain negative comments about them.

From a reputation point of view what harms a brand is negative results in the search engines. When deciding whether a result is positive or negative we have used only the title and the snippet shown in the google results. This could mean that when you click through the page is negative but the result doesn’t show it that way.

From a pure reputation managment point of view, you should obviously care about negative results, but the idea of this analysis is just to look at the first impressions in the search results.

British Airways reputation

The results are as follows (click to enlarge)

ba-1.jpg ba-2.jpg

  1. - Owned
  2. - Owned
  3. - Owned
  4. - Owned
  5. - Positive
  6. - Owned
  7. - Owned
  8. - Positive
  9. - Owned
  10. - Owned
  11.,2933,291304,00.html - Negative
  12. - Owned
  13. - Negative
  14. - Owned
  15. - Owned
  16. - Owned
  17. - Positive
  18. - Positive
  19. - Positive
  20. - Positive

As you can see there are a couple of negative results here - but these have been pushed down to the second page. There are a couple of results on the first page that BA doesn’t control, but these are either not about them or they are positive.

To allow us to compare the two sets of results, we give them a score out of 50. This is based on the type of result (Positive, Negative, Owned) and how high up the results it appears (how influential (to the searcher) it is).

British Airways gets a fairly respectable score of 42 / 50.

Virgin Atlantic reputation

The Virgin results are as follows ( click thumnails to enlarge )

virgin-1.jpg virgin-2.jpg

  1. - Owned
  2. - Owned
  3. - Owned
  4. - Positive
  5. - Owned
  6. - Owned
  7. - Owned
  8. - Owned
  9. - Owned
  10. - Positive
  11. - Positive
  12. - Positive
  13. - Positive
  14. - Owned
  15. - Positive
  16. - Positive
  17. - Owned
  18. - Positive
  19. - Positive
  20. - Negative

Virgin continue the trend we saw above by owning most of the first page of results. On to the second page there is a slightly different story. Virgin owns less of the second page results but you have to go all the way to the 20th result before the first negative result is found.

Our calculation gives Virgin a score of 44 / 50

Comparing the online reputation with the actual reputation

To make things a bit more fair, we are also interested in the actual reputation of the companies we are looking at. This is to ensure that a company that has hidden any negative press is still found out. It is interesting to us to find companies with bad reputations that have been covered up with some good reputation management.

To give a very rough score for how well a company is liked we compare the number of results for “I love brand name” with “I hate brand name”. We converted this ratio into a score out of 50.

The results

“I love British Airways” - 436 results “I hate British Airways” - 172 results

Which gives British Airways a score of 36 / 50

“I love Virgin Atlantic” - 597 results “I hate Virgin Atlantic” - 3 results

Virgin Atlantic end up with a fantastic (49.75 rounded up to) 50 / 50

The Reputation Wars winner is...

Winning in both our tests Virgin Atlantic has a better online reputation than British Airways, and takes this competition with a final score of:


British Airways comes (a not particularly close) second with a final score of:


Duncan Morris

Duncan Morris

Duncan founded Distilled with Will in 2005. He built the, now defunct website CMS from the ground-up, and consulted for some of the company’s first clients. Today Duncan leads the management team and helps to steer...   read more

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  1. As the poor sucker whose baggage was delayed twice by BA and blogged about it, thanks for the link, and hopefully I'll fly Virgin next time I go the San Francisco!

    reply >
    • jazz

      How was your flight to SF? i'm presuming you've gone in the past 4 and a half years? i'm currently on a toss up between BA and VA.

  2. angry

    before i went on holiday my grandma had a stroke but we were assured by British Airways that if she deteriorated while we were away that they would change our flights so we could get home.

    On 18th Aug, grandma took a turn for the worse so we wanted to return home but BA told us that due to buying our tickets on airmiles they would not transfer us. My mum had to pay more than £600 for a new ticket but unfortunately we couldn't come as well.

    Not only did BA not transfer a gold cad holder, (which would not have cost them any money) but they resold my mum's ticket so they made a further £600 on top of the cost of my mum's new ticket.

    Even after explaining the situation before and after flying home it looks as though British Airways has no humanity. Unfortunately, my grandma passed away earlier today and my mum would have missed out on possibly 5 days out of the short time she had left with her mother because of BA.

    Don't Fly With BA

    reply >
  3. Nice post. We've been following your reputation wars with interest, and hope you've got a new one coming soon :-)

    In fact, we've been inspired by your initiative and created one of our own - we've been following the online reputations of the Australian PM and the opposition leader in their own reputation war - we even used your reputation monitor.

    What I find interesting is how, while some big companies like the ones you've mentioned, are doing fairly good jobs of monitoring their online reputation, others really seem to struggle. While John Howard (the Australian PM) has finally managed to put his official (and Wikipedia) pages at the top of Google results, a very negative mock-blog "allegedly written by John Howard" still appears on the first page.

    At least it's moved down - a couple of months ago it was number three, despite not having any recent posts in it.

    We would be quite happy to manage his reputation for him, however...

    reply >
  4. Glad you like them Jason. They're Duncan's baby, but we'll bully him into doing some more!

    I like your ideas for comparison too - very interesting about the Australian PM. You should call his office. You never know!!

    reply >
  5. mike ryko

    Having flown with BA several times (once from London to Australia ...the horror, the horror) I can´t really believe you found any "I love British Airways" entries anywhere on the Internet, unless they were posted there by BA themselves.
    I imagine any results must have come from sentences where the possessive apostrophe was for some reason omitted, for example:
    "I love British Airways policy of not having a customer complaints department so that it is utterly impossible to make your complaint heard."
    "I love British Airways policy of giving disgruntled passengers (on the actual plane this is) a complaints form which includes a box to tick "Would you like a reply regarding this matter?" (hilarious enough in itself), which, when ticked, still results in no reply ever received from BA. I expect the cabin crew are instructed to put these forms straight in the bin.

    I´ve never flown Virgin but I will NEVER fly BA again. I would choose ANY airline over these obnoxious cowboys.

    reply >
  6. WJM

    I too would like to add to the I HATE British Airways.

    With all the issues in the USA about the safety stuff BA now has 'staff shortages' - tried to delay me by three days - except I had another flight booked less than 24 hours later (thankfully not with them!!) but my direct flight - which I paid a lot for has now become a indirect flight from the USA to UK and it has domestic flights in it as well.

    Just to remind everyone tha BA is subject to great compensation through the air Transport Users Council - 600 euros for a four hour delay plus airport compensation expenses!!

    Bring it on!!

    reply >
  7. Connor G :D

    to be honest, in my opinion both of these airlines are complete and utter rubbish! If you want good quality service then fly with emirates i always say! However, i must point out a fatal flaw in the second sectin which is entitled: "Comparing the online reputation with the actual reputation". I think you'll find the majority of people no longer call the airline virgin atlantic; just virgin. If you repeat this test with just virgin in google.couk, youu will see that while virgin still does better than ba, it is far closer than before! Anyway, thanks for reading and hopefully both of these airlines will start to buck up their ideas a bit!

    reply >
  8. Why do so many people think that airlines are some sort of charity? If you purchase a ticket that you are told is non-changeable and non-refundable why do you expect the airline to waiver from that? You have a choice of tickets/classes to buy so you should think carefully before you buy. It's the old cliche, you get what you pay for, and with airfares being cheaper than ever before, I have no sympathy with people who think that some sob story entitles them to a free change and probably an upgrade too!

    reply >
  9. ATT

    Davistee, sometime in 2007, I was still a student in USA. Something urgent came up and i had fly to Uganda via UK. I needed a visa to fly to UK, and I needed to book a flight to apply for the visa. I had very little money on me and I got a British Airways flight. I talked to them and was assured that there would be a refund if anything went wrong including denial of a visa. The British consulate denied me the visa, a few days later British airways refused to refund me, they also refused to give me flight credit. So before you say 'sob stories' remember not all people are as priviledged as you may be. My question is, if KLM,Virgin and Emirates etc...are willing to give flight credit or refunds at times why can't BA do the same for people who may need it. By the way, everytime I search for flights I try to avoid BA, after all KLM seems to have cheaper options all the time..

    reply >
  10. PAS

    I have heard of people who are upgraded by airlines and i have heard of people being asked to take a late flight because the flight is overbooked. what i had not heard of until i experienced it on Friday in Johannesburgh was buying a clubworld ticket from ba in January and then being told when i arrived at the transfer desk that the flight was overbooked so my husband and i had been downgraded to world traveller plus. the alternative offered was to wait in Johannesburgh for 24 hours. I was offered compensation of £200 cash or £300 vouchers when the upgrade from world traveller plus to club world cost me nearly £600 per ticket - ie £1200. we arrived 3 hours before the flight but apparently our error was not checking in on line - difficult to do from a bush camp in the Okavanga Delta!! Our 10 day 163k charity walk was an experience of a lifetime - the cavalier attitude of ba when asked to forfill the contract they had entered into and taken the full money for 3 months before was an example of total disregard for their customers - my advice - don't fly with our british airline

    reply >
  11. Bo_Duke


    So what about cancelling flights and bumping the passengers onto the next flight becuase the first flight isn't full enough?Happened to me twice in Frankfurt, although I note that four hour extra delays come free at least.

    And why can I sign up for any airline's reward scheme and get 100% miles for any flight, when for BA you have to cheat to even be given the privilege of joining their sucky executive club, only to find that anything apart from the most expensive economy fare only attracts 25% of the airmiles, whereas every single competitor will give you 100% for any ticket on the same route.

    No sob story, no changing tickets, no upgrades requested. Just shocking service from the most self-deluded and hypocritical airline in the world. Why does anyone even think of flying BA these days, you can get so much more from other airlines at the same price or less.

    Sell BA shares now, if you have them, it's an airline heading only one way fast.

    reply >
  12. Alex

    Don't see how you can call the news item about the princesses being kicked of the flight negative. The article says "airline staff tried to accommodate the princesses", if people want to behave in such a poor manner you can hardly blame the crew or airline. They should have checked in earlier to ensure they had their desired seats and definitely should have made their feelings known before the aircraft left the stand. Surely this article is neutral?

    reply >

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