This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
If truth be told, long-haul economy is not an area where BA can claim to have led the airline industry in innovation.
Virgin Atlantic can with some justification claim to have led the industry with seat back TVs as well as extra touches such as complimentary ice creams. Virgin claims to be the first airline to offer seat back TV to all passengers from June 1991.
The “World Traveller” brand was introduced in 1991, replacing what was previously known as economy. The idea behind the rebranding was to present the cabin as a product in its own right, rather than simply the back of the aircraft.
The cabin last went through a complete “end to end” revamp in late 1998 with the aim of “Making time fly” for passengers. After extensive passenger research, BA rethought the entire passenger experience, introducing allocated seating, new seats and cabin interiors, amenities and seat back in-flight entertainment.
The “innovative” double-decker meal tray structure did not last long.
The service was cut immediately after the events of 11 September 2001, with some items such pre-take off drinks and printed menus removed.
Since then, the in-flight service has been through a cycle of repeated cut backs and reinvestment. Seats and in-flight entertainment have been upgraded. BA is currently in the process of “densifying” Boeing 777 aircraft at Gatwick and Heathrow, increasing seating from 9 to 10 abreast.
It is a very competitive market, particularly with the rise of low cost long-haul airlines like Norwegian, and BA’s main aim today is to be price competitive in the market.
Whilst World Traveller is not BA’s most commercially important cabin, no passenger travels exclusively in one cabin. And of course, every passenger’s experience has an influence on public perception of an airline.