In recent months, there has been a flurry of activity by Europe’s legacy airlines in respect of their short-haul operations.
Traditionally, these airlines (British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa etc) have operated a business model of broadly making all of their profits on long-haul flights whilst losing money on short-haul flights.
Losses on short-haul flights have historically been tolerated on the basis they provide connecting passengers to support long-haul operations.
However, the maturing of low cost carriers such as easyJet into credible rivals for lucrative business passengers has put pressure on short-haul revenues. Furthermore, the intensity of competition from Middle Eastern airlines has reduced the profits on long-haul against which losses on short-haul operations can be offset.
Lufthansa is in the process of transferring short-haul flights that do not serve is Frankfurt and Munich hubs to Germanwings. British Airways has undertaken a number of revenue-raising measures such as short notice day-tripper and weekender flights and seasonal flights during quiet business travel periods.
The next phase of activity from BA is a complete reconfiguration of almost all of its Airbus short-haul aircraft.
For passengers travelling in the economy EuroTraveller cabin, the changes are broadly positive. For passengers travelling in the business class Club Euroe cabin the picture is more mixed.
Here are the main changes:
1. New ergonomically designed, slimmer leather seats with moveable armrests and a 4-way moveable headrest.
2. New literature pockets that can also hold the sleeve of an iPad for passengers who want to bring their own in-flight entertainment.
3. In Club Europe, a new central table feature called the ‘Centre console’ will be positioned in the middle seat that is traditionally kept free.
4. The aircraft will also be fitted with new curtains, carpets and wall coverings and a LED lighting system and “refreshed” washrooms.
The big downside is that leg room in Club Europe will be reduced from 34 inches to 30 inches. However, BA claims that this will not impact significantly on “usable” space due to the design of the seats which allow for more knee room.
The effect of the reduction in leg room and other changes is that the overall number of seats will increase on each aircraft. On an Airbus 319 aircraft BA will provide 143 seats instead of 132 seats. On an Airbus 320 aircraft will provide 168 seats instead of 162 seats. On an Airbus 321 aircraft will provide 205 seats instead of 188 seats
The first refurbished aircraft will enter into service on 4 July of this year and the rollout is expected to be completed by next year.
The Boeing 767s that operate in a short-haul configuration and the Boeing 737s that operate at Gatwick are not being reconfigured as they are both shortly being retired from the fleet.