British Airways doesn’t have a very good business class. It’s terribly expensive when redeeming miles thanks to choke-worthy fuel surcharges which continue even in an era of $45 oil. For transatlantic flying to and from the U.S. both American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic are better. I’m not a fan of Delta’s 767s, but DeltaOne is probably better than British Airways business class.
However it makes sense to buy British Airways when it’s super cheap, they have so much business class capacity that they will often dump it at a discount. It was once close to industry leading, as an early adopter of true lie flat beds. But they’ve fallen behind their competitors and have a hard time earning a revenue premium for their outdated product.
Three months ago British Airways announced what they claimed was a $500 million investment in business class.
The plan also included a $110 million investment in U.S. lounges (and a million pound refresh to the business and first lounges at Heathrow, which need a lot more than that), finally introducing inflight internet, and ‘First Wing’ access from security to lounge at London Heathrow, avoiding the long walk of retail shame around the airport via all the duty free shops.
The business class investment involved:
- New business class seats on Airbus A350s starting in 2019. These will not be market leading seats, and they’re still years off from having much market penetration.
They are promising ‘direct aisle access’ but they’ll get there via clever design that doesn’t actually give you the same spacious seat that airlines like American do.
- Bigger pillows, upgraded linens, a mattress topper and duvet.
- Meal service from a cart rather than trays.
New Bedding is Sorely Needed
The plan is to start the new soft product with better bedding and cart-based meal service on the New York JFK – London Heathrow route and eventually roll out to the rest of the network next year.
Today they shared details of some elements of the soft product via their partnership with The White Company.
The iconic British retailer will supply bedding and amenity kits in Club World as part of the airline’s £400m customer investment plan, with a focus on excellence in the premium cabins and more choice and quality for all. Later this year, customers travelling in Club World between Heathrow and New York JFK will be given a new elegant day cushion which will double up as a fantastic lumbar support when working or relaxing on board. Exclusively for British Airways, The White Company have also designed a bespoke, luxuriously soft large pillow and white cotton pillowcase to enhance customers’ comfort and to help them sleep well in the sky. Customers will also be given a super-soft woven blanket with satin trim and a specially developed luxury duvet to improve their quality of sleep, as well as a padded mattress cover giving an extra layer of comfort.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the seat made up with new bedding:
The new amenity kit will contain “products from the retailer’s ‘Restore & Relax Spa Collection’, as well as a super-soft jersey eye-mask, offering a further touch of luxury in the sky.”
And they’re going to introduce ‘breakfast cards’ that customers can fill out to signal to flight crew “if they wish to be woken for breakfast and if so, what they would like.”
While better than not offering better pillows and linens, this is largely lipstick on a pig.
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.
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.
BA is playing the London-only game, thinking their position in this market (though somewhat diminished it will remain important even if we reach a post-Brexit world) is all they need — even Prince William flies Ryanair and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron ate Pringles on an easyJet flight.
The airline 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. Eventually competition could grow with a third runway. And they need to compete for connecting traffic beyond London to and from other destinations in Europe and Africa.
Their strategy has been frequent discounting, which is particularly noteworthy given their position in one of the world’s most premium markets.
(HT: One Mile at a Time)