7 Reasons British Airways Needs to Offer a Preferred Product, Not Merely Fly to London

British Airways put on a big media event on Wednesday, and even flew journalists and bloggers between London Gatwick and Heathrow, to highlight their premium investments.

  • $500m investment in long-haul business class
  • $110m investment in U.S. lounges (also a million pound refresh to the business and first lounges at Heathrow)
  • Finally introducing inflight internet
  • Self-service checkin and creepy facial recognition boarding passes
  • ‘First Wing’ access from security to lounge at London Heathrow, avoiding the long walk around the airport via duty free


Laggard British Airways Business Class Seats Will Be Around for the Foreseeable Future

Perhaps the biggest changes to business class — because we won’t see industry leading seats, and only the first ‘new’ seats on Airbus A350s in 2019 — are bigger pillows, upgraded linens, a mattress topper and duvet. Any replacing for the scratchy blanket and postage stamp-size pillow onboard is welcome. They’ll also be offering meal service from a cart rather than trays. Service starts on New York JFK routes and may not be available on others until 2018.

Regarding their investment in business and first class lounges at Heathrow I tweeted,

British Airways reportedly paid a million pounds a year to avoid first class passengers with access to the Concorde Room having to walk via duty free (a million pounds ‘for a door’). The new First Wing extends a convenience to passengers with first class lounge access (British Airways Gold and oneworld Emerald passengers) as well.


Currently heading to the lounge means going down an escalator, walking through the shops, and back up an escalator.


New ‘First Wing’ Premium Security Exits Directly to Lounge

None of this makes British Airways a premium airline even apart from the catering cutbacks we’ve seen in recent months in premium cabins and the plan to reduce legroom even in intra-European business class to less than what Ryanair offers.

They’re turning themselves into an airline more like the ultra low cost carriers without the low costs while at the same time signaling strategic investments in premium cabins without leading-edge seats.

One Mile at a Time thinks this makes sense writing that customers flying in and out of London have little choice anyway,

They don’t care if most of us like flying with them. They own the most slots at one of the most coveted airports in the world. The question isn’t whether you want to fly British Airways, but rather whether you want to travel to London.

I believe that’s a very short-sighted view.

  1. For intra-Europe flying Heathrow isn’t the only game in town. Even Prince William flies Ryanair. And former UK Prime Minister David Cameron ate Pringles on an easyJet flight.

  2. BA has a ton of premium seats, they need to compete not just for business in and out of London (and they do need to compete for transatlantic business with United, Delta, Virgin, etc, each is smaller than BA but together represent a meaningful part of the market) but also for connecting traffic beyond London to and from other destinations in Europe and Africa.

  3. They want to fill their planes with higher yield passengers, BA’s strategy of late has been frequent discounting. Checkers fast food advertises “you gotta eat” and well, technically they sell food. British Airways can say “you gotta fly to London and technically we go there” or they can attract a higher relative mix of premium customers.

  4. Before Open Skies, only TWA (sold to American) and Pan Am (sold to United) had route authority to fly to Heathrow. US airlines flew to Gatwick. Heathrow is known as the key business airport for London but competition at the margin matters — even outside Heathrow. British Airways is building up its transatlantic network at Gatwick competing on lower yield routes with Norwegian, and Norwegian’s premium product (more of a premium economy) offers a low fare alternative.

  5. If they didn’t need to compete for transatlantic premium cabin passengers travel to and from other European destinations, they wouldn’t offer Club Europe — BA has said in the past the only reason to do this is premium transatlantic customers who won’t travel coach on their connecting segment.

  6. That third runway opens up the possibility of more slots at Heathrow. BA is one of the reasons that project has slow-walked, precisely because it opens up the threat of more competition (and since it involves higher airport fees, the irony is that BA largely funds the increased competition).

  7. London becomes a less important/significant market post-Brexit, financial services firms evaluate where else in Europe it makes sense to base e.g. Frankfurt, so BA’s future is one where they need to be more – not less – competitive.

British Airways isn’t among the world’s bottom carriers, but it offers a transatlantic product materially behind Delta, American and Air France and even arguably United. East of London they lag many of their Asian competitors and also Qatar and Etihad as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Before anybody says “first world problems” about the walk between security and the lounge, it really does suck that much.

    BA has two business class lounges in T5. One is right by security and overcrowded. The other is at the end of the maze Gary described, naturally less crowded, and better overall. If they make the walk to the “good” lounge more natural, it makes you wonder what the fate of the “bad” lounge will be.

  2. A few years ago, I found that their First Class was no better than their Business Class JNB-LHR. Heathrow, as well, needs help. Upon a recent BA arrival at Terminal 3 from BUD, the LHR gate guide asked us where we needed to go to connect to Delta. Consulting his necklace of airline locations, he sent us to T 4, where we were told that Delta hadn’t used T 4 for years! This 45-minute runaround a half hour at the Transfer Desk caused us to miss Delta One to SLC and PDX, and required us buying a night at ATL, and downgrading to coach to PDX. BA and Delta offered no compensation. Should LHR offer compensation?

    consulting his necklace of airlines, he sent us To Terminal4.

  3. A few years ago, I found that their First Class was no better than their Business Class JNB-LHR. Heathrow, as well, needs help. Upon a recent BA arrival at Terminal 3 from BUD, the LHR gate guide asked us where we needed to go to connect to Delta. Consulting his necklace of airline locations, he sent us to T 4, where we were told that Delta hadn’t used T 4 for years! This 45-minute runaround a half hour at the Transfer Desk caused us to miss Delta One to SLC and PDX, and required us buying a night at ATL, and downgrading to coach to PDX. BA and Delta offered no compensation. Should LHR offer compensation?

  4. @Mike …I was thinking the same thing. Who gives a flying crap if the meal is on a cart! If BA is resorting to bragging about things like that, they really have lost it.

  5. I hate nbdona’s post. It’s as if you bake a cake, knowing it’s half baked, yet still serve it to your friends.

  6. LHR tops my list of world’s worst airports with its bleak hallways, bus transfers, long lines at security and immigration, and absurd and arbitrary security procedures. Combine that with BA;s tired aircraft, cramped seats, and lack of power and wifi on long-haul aircraft and that’s enough to avoid BA and LHR altogether. Why LHR is so coveted is beyond me.

    Investment in BA US lounges is much needed. The BA first class lounge at JFK T7 is the worst FC lounge I’ve ever visited. The business class lounge is way better.

  7. @nbdonna Delta was still using Heathrow T4 a few years ago for about half of their flights…

  8. My comparison points are limited, but I much prefer T5 LHR as a “home” airport to AMS and BOS (my prior home airports). But, the caveat, is ex-LHR and mostly flying out of T5. I’m not a fan of T3, but the BA First and CX lounges do provide some excellent lounge product. I just find the walks and entire terminal to be depressing. Bright spot is the Virgin Clubhouse in T3, which can again be accessed by Delta Diamond Medallions (Top Tier) on economy class tickets. But, other than the Clubhouse… I disagree with your statement Gary : “but it offers a transatlantic product materially behind Delta” <== Delta (I believe) is almost exclusively 767s and 757s to/from LHR. These planes are dinosaurs and the 1-2-1 configuration on the 767 while direct aisle access is one of the worst business class products. Most important, you can't escape these planes currently if you fly Delta to/from LHR. And, at present, Delta has no premium economy product on their 767s. Otherwise, I agree with most of your sentiment. But, I do believe that a premium (BA Gold / Emerald) flyer who uses LHR T5 as their "home base" is mostly satisfied with their airport experience. At least I am.

  9. This is all so funny. If food on a cart isn’t what makes a “premium” experience, what does? Gary argues it’s the seat (I agree with this); but for the rest of you, what matters?

    Fluffy blankets, satin pillows? All being upgraded in a few months. A good lounge? BA’s are still generally good, and spacious. A decent hub terminal? Well, T5 isn’t gorgeous, but it’s better than AMS, among many, many others. Crew who can get you out of a plane quickly in an emergency? BA has that, for sure. Wifi? BA’s getting it, albeit slowly – still faster than Qantas. Good entertainment systems? BA’s content is as good as any, especially for discerning English speaking passengers, although on a slightly smaller screen than some. Good availability of seats, revenue or award? BA has that.

    What else is there?

  10. For a flight in J next month, I had the most direct option BUD-LHR with BA. Instead I chose to go Austrian Airlines, with a short connection in VIE. There are other options, like Brussels Air, Lufthansa, LOT, to name the main competitors. Austrian had the best departure time for me that day. You don’t have to use BA if you would rather not.

  11. For me to consider BA to London, it’d have to change dramatically. And this comes from someone in a market (DEN), where BA offer the only nonstop service.

    In a few weeks, my family and I will be heading to London on FI via KEF.

  12. “This is all so funny. If food on a cart isn’t what makes a “premium” experience, what does? Gary argues it’s the seat (I agree with this); but for the rest of you, what matters?

    Fluffy blankets, satin pillows? All being upgraded in a few months. A good lounge? BA’s are still generally good, and spacious. A decent hub terminal? Well, T5 isn’t gorgeous, but it’s better than AMS, among many, many others. Crew who can get you out of a plane quickly in an emergency? BA has that, for sure. Wifi? BA’s getting it, albeit slowly – still faster than Qantas. Good entertainment systems? BA’s content is as good as any, especially for discerning English speaking passengers, although on a slightly smaller screen than some. Good availability of seats, revenue or award? BA has that.

    What else is there?”

    John, there are other products out there which do all of those things.

    “Fluffy blankets, satin pillows? All being upgraded in a few months.”

    Wow… as if that’s revolutionary. UA (of all airlines) introduced new Saks Fifth Avenue bedding for Polaris, and DL has had Westin Heavenly bedding for a while now. BA’s simply getting into the game years behind others.

    “A good lounge?”

    Really? You’d consider BA’s lounges to be spacious? Not sure if it’s just me, but the lounges I frequent are either almost filled to the brim, or they’re a desolate wasteland with nothing in them (looking at you, SEA!). Sure, they’re acceptable, but they’re nowhere near the levels of CX, QR, etc.

    “A decent hub terminal?”

    T5 may be a good hub terminal, but that doesn’t really mean much. If you’re leaving first thing in the morning, it’s spooky and empty. If you leave during the day, it’s pretty loud and noisy, and it’s pretty much a maze of shops that you’re forced to walk through. Not to mention the unbearable customs lines for non-EU/EEA citizens, which are the longest customs lines I’ve ever had to experience. If I’m connecting, I’d look forwards to JFK’s T4 for its straight-forwards layout or SEA for the clear signage it has and its interconnectedness, not LHR’s T5 where I’d have to leave the terminal just to take a different airline.

    “Crew who can get you out of a plane quickly in an emergency? BA has that, for sure.”

    Please don’t tell me that that’s part of the business class experience. EVERY AIRLINE, regardless of its location or service, should be able to get you out of a plane in an emergency. That’s the standard, regardless of cabin class or price. If they can’t then there’s something wrong with the airline.

    “Wifi?”

    Don’t tell me that you think BA has good wifi coverage. DL managed to have wifi on nearly all of its fleet (which for the record is 3x larger than BA’s) and is planning on overhauling it. EK has it for almost free ($1), and do you think BA can do that? No, because per the BA website it’s only available on the LCY-JFK shuttle, which means wifi is on 2 planes. That’s less than a percent of its fleet, especially considering that one of them is in storage half the time.

    “Good entertainment systems?”

    At least they got something right, unless you consider that the headphones that BA has are nothing like the Bose headphones that AA has for J and F, and that the screens BA has are real small. What is the point of having such old screens when airlines like DL have newer (and larger!) screens on their entire fleet (aside from the aging 767s, which will hopefully be gone soon).

    “Good availability of seats, revenue or award? BA has that.”

    Please explain to me how this relates to the “premium offerings” BA has. Unless BA is giving away award seats whenever I buy a ticket with them as an amenity for being a J passenger, then this has nothing to do with the BA experience. Even if they did, what’s the point of having award miles on BA and good availability if you can’t use it because of the obscene fuel surcharges and other airlines offer the same seat for a lower (if not the same) price.

    “What else is there?”

    A lot.

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