Any one who has flown British Airways’ Club World long-haul business class on more than a handful of occasions will be more than familiar with the in flight service.
It begins with the offer of pre-take off drinks of champagne, orange juice and water. The hot towels, amenity kits and bottles of water are dispatched. There is a bar and main meal service, with one choice of coffee to follow. A widely varying offer of snacks are available in the self-service Club Kitchen. Before landing there is a second meal service, typically Afternoon Tea or a light breakfast, depending on the direction of travel.
Over the years the catering budget has gone up and down, depending on external and internal financial pressures. There have been small initiatives, such as the Heston Blumenthal inspired “Height Cuisine”, changes to the presentation of meals and the ability to pre-order a main course. The Club Kitchen gets periodically gutted and restocked. The quantity of sandwiches and cake for Afternoon Tea has been forever tweaked with. However, the service has fundamentally remained the same.
Today, BA has unveiled planned changes to its Club World business class with specific changes to catering and the in-flight service. This was first announced at its parent company’s (IAG) Capital Markets Day late last year.
No new Club World seat until the Airbus A350 arrives in 2019
Before detailing the changes, let’s get one thing out of the way.
BA has not yet unveiled a new Club World seat. It is known that a new seat with aisle access for all is in development. However, this is not expected to be unveiled until BA takes delivery of the Airbus A350 aircraft in 2019. Furthermore, no decisions have been made on whether to retrofit the new seat on existing long-haul aircraft, of which there are many!
Indeed, today’s announcement is a tacit acceptance that its business class seat has fallen behind most of its competitors from London. BA has always optimised rather than maximised its in flight service and “soft” improvements are clearly compensating for the fact that its “hard” seat is inferior to the competition.
The improvements cover three main areas:
1. Improved quality and presentation of food and drink
This will include more choice available when pre-ordering. In the cabin there will be new tray settings, crockery and glassware. There will be radical changes to the presentation of appetisers, desserts and cheese & biscuits and you will also be able to choose these from a cart in the cabin.
These changes to catering are to be rolled out progressively, starting with the London – New York JFK route in September of this year and the rest of the network in 2018. The gap between launch and the roll out across the network suggests there will be a lot of testing and feedback for the new service, and no doubt, training for cabin crew.
2. New bedding
This will include new linen, a bigger pillow, soft mattress topper and duvet for Club World. These will be available from July.
3. New in flight service routines to improve the environment for sleeping
Though this has always been the case as many “Sleeper Service” flights operate with a truncated in flight service). This is likely be mean longer periods with the cabin lights dimmed, particularly on night flights from the East Coast where there is limited time to sleep.
Contrary to some speculation, there will not be a full dine-on-demand service. BA has also not, to our knowledge, made any changes to its galley equipment or increased cabin crew numbers in the cabin.
Whilst improvements are to be welcomed and there has clearly been a lot of work out in by BA to develop these improvements, BA has a maddening habit of adding in flight amenities only to take them away shortly afterwards when there is pressure on budgets. One click on an Excel spreadsheet and these improvements could easily be withdrawn.
You can also be confident that post-flight survey scores will be monitored very closely to track customer feedback on these changes, so when the changes are introduced do make your views known.