Some time ago we wrote about a patent application by British Airways in respect of a new business class seat which would afford all business class passengers direct aisle access.
With American Airlines, Air France, Cathay Pacific, Finnair and others introducing new business class seats which provide all passengers with direct aisle access, British Airways has maintained its typically eight across “yin-yang” business class cabin on all recent deliveries of new aircraft.
The reason for this is the efficiency of the cabin layout and that BA flies a number of routes with very high business class demand (such that some 747s are to have business class seating increased from 70 to 86 seats and its A380s have 97 business class seats).
The patent application did prompt speculation that BA would abandon the “ying yang” layout on future deliveries of Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
However, IAG CEO Willie Walsh was asked about whether there were any plans to introduce an entirely new seat at a recent investor update and this is what he had to say:
In relation to the fantastic British Airways [Club World Business Class] product, we measure the success of that product in financial terms obviously, and in financial terms that product is doing extremely well. And we don’t see any reason to make any changes.
However, with the arrival of the 787-10 and the A350 1000 there is both a need in terms of the 350 1000 and an opportunity with the 10 to look at a new version of the existing product. So we are working on that. You should expect to see BA continue to innovate the product. But I’d describe it more as refreshing the existing product rather than a radical change. We don’t see any reason to change the basic structure of the product that we have on board the aircraft, which, as you know, is extremely efficient in terms of space utilization. It is the most efficient. And from that point of view gives by far the best financial result for us.
So put simply, BA seems intent on maintaining the current layout.
We’re sure IAG and BA have run the numbers and we’re not so naïve to think that decisions around seating density and layout aren’t taken lightly.
BA seems confident that the potential revenue lost from a lower-density business class cabin would be greater than the potential revenue lost to competitors from maintaining the current layout. This may well be the case, particularly with the growing size of its long-haul network from London Heathrow. However, the gap between BA and a growing number of airlines is being noticed by frequent flyers. This coupled with a “soft” product (food and beverage etc) that is very much “just enough” means that consumer sentiment could change quickly and the airline could find itself on the backfoot.