It’s now almost one year since BA launched its new Club World bedding and meal service, and almost two years since it was first announced to investors in BA’s parent company, IAG.
Having experienced it on a number of different aircraft and routes, it’s a good time to put pen to paper and gather some thoughts.
Progress of new bedding and catering roll-out
By way of a quick primer, the new White Company bedding is now available on all Club World routes to and from all London airports.
The new catering service is taking longer. It should be on almost all Heathrow routes by the end of the year. The new service is now available on most, if not all, North American routes. The latest routes to receive the new service are Singapore-Sydney, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. There are still a number of routes to Central and South America, Africa, The Middle East and Asia to follow. The last Heathrow routes are likely to be the Airbus A321 medium haul routes to Amman and Beirut. The new service will be rolled out at Gatwick in 2019.
Here are some very recent “before and after” images for the service on exact same aircraft (and seat!) and exact same transatlantic route just over 12 months apart:
What are our main observations and comments?
The service delivery is inconsistent
One of BA’s relative strengths is that whilst it is never to going to have a maximised product, it has always delivered solid professional consistency.
When you step on board an aircraft you know what you are going to get, and variances between flights are relatively marginal.
However, it is clear that how the new service is delivered depends very much on the crew on the day. Some skip the use of display trollies for starters and desserts altogether. Others use them, but grudgingly. This has been the case for the exact same routes on the same type of aircraft.
It’s one of our golden rules of travelling never to ask crews about internal management issues. They have other things to be doing. It’s impertinent to ask a stranger about their employment relationship. And an aircraft is not the place to discuss it as you never know who is listening.
However, on a recent flight, a one senior cabin crew member was asked by a nearby passenger his views on the use of the display trollies. He did not hold back and made his views very clear. It may that some crew members who have been used to delivering the old Club World service for decades are struggling to adapt, but some plainly don’t like the change. Given the investment in new equipment and marketing of the new service where presentation and delivery is the most tangible difference, it can be said with confidence that this is not what those in the upper echelons of BA had intended.
BA must resist the temptation to fiddle with the service
The service will inevitably be tweaked as it is rolled out further.
However, in the past there has been a cycle of making investments in the in-flight service, only for them to be pared back when there is internal pressure on budgets. Aspects of Club World, such as the second meal service, have been subject to perennial tweaks in the past. Constant fiddling with the service, even to the point where what is offered does not match the printed menu, is a source of frustration.
On that note, the Club Kitchen seems to be a constant source of inconsistency. The offering regularly oscillates in terms of both quantity, choice of brands, and ambient/fresh items. There seems to be a cycle where passengers don’t know what to expect, so they don’t use it, which prompts further change.
A premium cabin is about the “end to end” experience
Club World should not just be about the in-flight service or the seat.
It is about the entire “end to end” experience. Indeed, BA introduced the Club World name, one of the few globally renowned cabin brands, thirty years ago this year for this very purpose.
However, there is scope for more improvement.
I never had reason to complain about BA crews. However, there is a difference between those who deliver the prescribed service perfectly efficiently and professionally and those who just make that bit more effort. Whether it’s a rising star new recruit or a deft experienced hand, those who really try to connect with passengers and show a bit more awareness and proactivity leave a lasting impression.
Whilst ground services at Heathrow have improved markedly over the years, BA could make more of guaranteeing no queuing at check-in or security at Heathrow. And the Galleries lounges are due a refurbishment beyond their recent “refresh”. They are now ten years old and were designed in era that pre-dated the rise of the smartphone. And it shows. There are banks of barely touched PCs running Internet Explorer and screensavers from five years’ ago. Try finding a USB charging socket in the lounge. That’s something we should turn to on another day.