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.
Twenty years or so ago, if you took a flight in BA Euro Traveller you’d be served a complimentary meal plated on china and offered unlimited drinks from the bar.
Regardless of the fare purchased you’d also have a generous luggage allowance and be able to select a seat for free.
All that has changed since. The reason? The rise and rise of low cost airlines in Europe which, it is no exaggeration to say, has completely revolutionised travel in Europe.
20 years ago easyJet had just one route at London Gatwick, now it has around 50% of slots at the airport.
It is conventional wisdom that the network legacy airlines have aped low cost airlines. They certainly have adopted many aspects of their business model. Some of this is in a good way. There was a time when a one-way fare would cost little different from a return fare and fares came with Saturday night stay restrictions.
Low cost airlines have also adopted many aspects of legacy network airlines. They introduced allocated seating, when it used to an absolute free-for-all on boarding, introduced more services to primary airports, added priority ground facilities and smarted up their image. easyJet is also planning to introduce its own frequent flyer currency.
BA has for 20 years sought to differentiate itself from low cost airlines in its advertising, with mixed success.
“There Are Other Ways, Then There’s British Airways” (2003)
The timing of this advert was unfortunate as it had to be pulled as BA experienced unofficial industrial action at Heathrow at the time it aired.
“The Friendly Lemon” (2012)
“The Happy Jumper” (2012)
“The Relaxed Trainer” (2012)
These were three spots from 2012 highlighting the specific benefits of flying BA in Europe at the time, namely complimentary drinks, a checked luggage allowance, and free seat selection 24 hours before departure.
Over time, BA has progressively reduced benefits, first by introducing seat selection charges. These are the “sweet spot” for ancillary revenues for airlines as seat selection costs nothing to provide, so all the extra revenue is pure profit.
Then came “hand baggage only” fares, effectively introducing a charge for checked luggage.
After years of progressive cuts from “All Day Deli” bags to packets of crisps, the withdrawal of complimentary catering came in 2017. The latter triggered a torrent of negative publicity, proof that it is much harder to take something away, then never offer it in the first place.