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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.