When British Airways introduced buy on board catering to short haul flights in 2017 then CEO Alex Cruz was convinced that it was only a matter of time before its network rivals followed suit.
Four years and a global pandemic later, events have taken an interesting turn.
Whilst Lufthansa is introducing buy on board across its airlines from March 2021, BA has pulled a minor volte face.
Since COVID-19, BA has offered a limited service in short haul economy of complimentary water and a light snack, with no buy on board to limit passenger / crew interaction.
This is now permanent. From Wednesday 20 January 2021, buy on board will be replaced with a fully pre paid service known as “Speedbird Cafe”.
BA will no longer sell M&S branded products. It will continue to offer a range of soft and alcoholic drinks, ambient snacks, as well as some sandwiches designed for the airline by Tom Kerridge. Worry not, the infamous Afternoon Tea box is still available.
You can download a full PDF menu here – note this is a large file.
All passengers will have to pre order online in advance via the Highlife Shop. If you are flying from London you can place an order up to 12 hours before your flight.
If you’re flying to London, you can place an order up to 24 hours before your flight. Some flights to London have a longer lead time of 30 hours as the food is loaded on the aircraft in London which then sits at the departure airport overnight.
This will streamline the in flight service. Arguably, this “hybrid” approach to buy on board would, along with a more careful phased implementation and something to take the edge off for frequent flyers, could have avoided a lot of negative publicity four years ago.
That said, it remains to be seen how well this will work during disruption, where short haul flights bear the brunt of cancellations during severe weather at London Heathrow.
Realistically, with current travel restrictions it will be some months before most passengers try the new service but it does at least allow teething problems to be ironed out.
It is no exaggeration to say COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the airline industry. Its effect will be felt for years to come. However, this along with BA introducing at seat ordering at Heathrow lounges, is one example of it prompting new thinking.