Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 25 March 2019.
Reflections On BA’s New Club Suite
A week has now passed since BA officially announced its much anticipated “Club Suite”. It has generated a huge amount of coverage, both online and in the “mainstream media”.
It will still be some months until anyone is able to fly on it – and you can only really assess an airline seat when spending several hours in it at 38,000 feet. Reflecting on the announcement, a few thoughts spring to mind.
BA First Class still has a future
The announcement of current generation of long-haul business class seats has often coincided with a significant reduction in First Class, or its elimination altogether.
United has eliminated international First Class with its Polaris business class. Qantas does not operate First Class on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
Although First Class will not be installed in the first deliveries of the Airbus A350-1000, it will on future deliveries. It should also feature on the Boeing 787-10 and Boeing 777-9 aircraft. First Class will still operate on a very large number of routes, albeit with a smaller 8 seat cabin. This is not necessarily a bad thing if a smaller First Class capacity allows for new ground services not previously feasible at Heathrow.
Why is the roll-out taking so long?
BA has previously said that it will take until 2023 to fit the new Club Suite to all aircraft in the scope of the programme.
The answer why is United Polaris. A little over two years ago it ran a huge PR campaign for its Polaris business class. It is now only a third of the way of retrofitting the seat to Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 aircraft due to delays in the delivery of seats from the manufacturer. BA is obviously managing expectations, and the roll-out may be accelerated if manufacturing capacity becomes available.
This is also not necessarily a bad thing. With the best will in the world there will always be issues not anticipated before passengers and crew have to work with the seats. When the current Club World seat was introduced in 2006, the seat had to be modified because passengers complained of a “bounce” effect when their neighbours sat down.
Expectations need to be managed for the first flights
There has understandably been huge interest in the first A350 flights to Dubai and Toronto in October.
One note of caution: It is not only a new cabin but an entirely new type of aircraft for the crew. As is common when new aircraft are introduced it does take time for the crew to get familiar the layout of galleys. The service may be a little slow to start with. Whilst this will be more than compensated by for by the new seat, this something to bear in mind, particularly on overnight flights.
All eyes are now on Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic is expected to announce its new Upper Class cabin for the Airbus A350 in a little over two weeks.
One difference between BA Club World and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is that the latter is Virgin’s top tier product. It has always featured prominently in advertising and has acted as a “brand halo” for the airline. With a relatively smaller route network and fewer frequencies, Virgin has always pushed hard distinctive features such as its Upper Class bar to compensate. Its announcement is awaited with great interest.
Today was the day we were to learn of the fate of WOW air.
Last year, Icelandair announced it was to buy WOW air in all share transaction which valued WOW air at around $18m. However, this was abandoned.
WOW air announced last November that it had reached an agreement in principle for an investment from private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC. However, it announced on Thursday 21 March that Indigo Partners had withdrawn its interest. Talks with Icelandair resumed on Thursday with a deadline of today. However, WOW air issued a statement on Sunday afternoon that these had been cancelled. It is now in discussions with bondholders and creditors on a possible restructuring, which could include a debt for equity swap.
Monocle 24 On “The Golden Age Of Aviation”
Talk of a “golden age” of aviation should always be treated with caution.
Passengers have more choices of cabins and routes on more comfortable aircraft than ever before.
Monocle 24 has started a new series on The Golden Age Of Aviation, which it deems from the 1950s to 1970s. It was certainly a period of significant progress with the advent of the jet age. The first episode covers the branding and marketing of Pan American World Airways and the experience of pilots at Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak airport.
In case you missed it:
What’s else is happening with Club World? (London Air Travel)
BA returns to Dammam. (London Air Travel)
BA launches London Gatwick – Milan Bergamo (London Air Travel)
Virgin Atlantic launches London Heathrow – Sao Paulo (London Air Travel)
Also of note this week:
BA staff raise security concerns about its call centre in Germany. (Financial Times)
How does aircraft landing gear work? (Virgin Atlantic)