Regular passengers in British Airways short-haul business class “Club Europe” have not had a great time of late.
After the “densification” (IAG & BA lexicon for adding more seats) of its Airbus short-haul fleet of aircraft the leg room in Club Europe is no different to EuroTraveller economy. More seats on aircraft also means more competition for space for hand baggage in the overhead lockers.
On the ground, BA has closed some business class lounges in Europe in locations such as Dusseldorf. Fast track ground facilities such as access to priority security lanes are not guaranteed for BA passengers at many European airports.
Over the past fifteen years or so, the catering offer has also been steadily reduced. One of the most notable changes was the replacement of hot meals with a cold breakfast plate on mid-morning flights and the introduction of Afternoon Tea. (Although Afternoon Tea has some fans, we think BA has a frankly absurd obsession with serving it on the ground and in the air, not least because nobody in the UK actually eats Afternoon Tea.)
By its own admission, BA has looked at withdrawing Club Europe altogether, at least at London Gatwick. However, the cabin has soldiered on. Indeed, BA is adding Club Europe to its UK domestic routes from 1 April 2017.
In one of the most significant changes we can recall in recent years, BA has now substantially redesigned the catering routines for all Club Europe flights to and from London Gatwick and Heathrow.
Historically, BA has used a banding system whereby BA has banded flights from 1 – 4 according to the length of the flight from London.
In most cases, passengers were offered a hot breakfast on early morning flights, a cold breakfast plate mid-morning, a hot lunch/salad at lunchtime, Afternoon Tea and a hot dinner on evening flights.
This has now all changed from today (Sunday 26 March 2017).
All of BA’s short-haul flights are now grouped into one of the following four bands: Very Short, Short, Medium and Long.
Very Short covers Jersey and flights within the UK to Leeds-Bradford and Manchester.
Short covers the rest of the UK (Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Newcastle) as well as Dublin, Amsterdam, Brussels, a number of destinations in France, Germany and Switzerland including Paris Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, Basel Geneva and Zurich.
Medium covers many routes in countries such as Italy, Spain, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe such as Barcelona, Madrid, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa, Marseille, Nice, Oslo, Prague, Pisa, Venice, Vienna and Zagreb.
Long covers flights well in excess of 2.5 hours such as Stockholm, Budapest, Rome, Warsaw, Athens, Helsinki, Istanbul, Larnaca, Lisbon, St Petersburg, Bucharest, and Sofia.
In terms of the catering changes there are most definitely positives and negatives with a strong element of “What BA gives with one hand, it takes….”.
Very Short routes will be offered a breakfast roll (save for Jersey which receives a cooked breakfast) and a cold plate for the rest of the day.
Short and Medium routes will be offered a hot breakfast before 9am, For the rest of the day passengers will be offered a cold breakfast plate mid-morning, a choice of hot panini or a small salad at lunch and dinner, or Afternoon Tea. Remarkably, no hot meals will be offered at all during the day after breakfast.
Long routes should see a marked improvement with a choice of two main courses throughout the day after breakfast. In addition, wines will be offered from full bottles.
In addition to these changes, BA will offer new crockery in a similar style to its Club World long-haul business class.
BA has had a terrible press in the UK of late, principally in relation to the introduction of Buy On Board on short-haul economy and other cut backs and service failures on long-haul flights. There are undoubtedly some negatives associated with these changes. The loss of hot meals on short-haul routes to Barcelona and Madrid is a very substantial cut back and the quality of hot meals prepared by BA’s Club Europe catered (Do & Co) was very good. Ironically, BA’s IAG sibling Iberia will offer a significantly better service to and from Madrid. Given BA has cut back complimentary catering entirely from short-haul economy, it is hard to fathom why many short-haul business class routes are also receiving cut backs.
You can be confident that post-flight survey responses for all short-haul routes will be monitored very carefully. If you are flying in Club Europe we would encourage you to make your views known through the post-flight surveys and via Customer Services or through your corporate travel manager. BA has in the past reversed unpopular changes in Club Europe (such as when it stopped widening the old convertible seats to reduce aircraft turnaround times) so if hard data (rather than online anecdote) shows that the changes have not been well received, it may well reverse some of them.