The airline could start charging long-distance flyers for a menu drawn from the aisles of Mark & Spencer, Alex Cruz, BA’s boss, has revealed. The move will spark fresh claims that penny-pinching is reducing BA to “a budget airline”.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Cruz said that after “a rough start” customers now welcomed the chance to pay for M&S food on European flights. The airline’s buy-on-board system, which replaced free food on short flights in January, is “a perfect decision”, he said.
“It’s going great. Customers say to us: ‘Finally, I have good choices. No more chicken or beef’.” The service could be extended to long-haul economy. “We might do it,” he said.
Next year, BA will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of London Heathrow Terminal 5. The opening itself is a day BA would rather forget. Ever since Terminal 5 opened a perennial complaint has been the fact that in spite of the fact that three of its lounges in the South of the terminal (Galleries Club, Galleries First and The Concorde Room) are located immediately adjacent to the South security screening area, passengers are forced to take a circuitous route down a crowded escalator and past numerous shops and restaurants and back up a set of escalators to access the lounges.
The one exception is those who have access to the Concorde Room by virtue of flying First Class or holding a Concorde Room Card can enter the lounge via a special door next to the South Security screening area, which at opening was rumoured to have cost BA many millions of pounds.
All that has now changed, for some passengers at least. If you have passed through the South end of Terminal 5 over the past few months you could not have failed to have noticed a large construction area near to the Club check-in area. This is the new BA First Wing.
BA held a press event yesterday for a select number of travel journalists and bloggers (though someone at The Daily Telegraph clearly did not get an invitation).
Under the curious title of “#BAInvesting4U” journalists were ferried from London Gatwick to London Heathrow via a three and a half four flight on a brand new Boeing 787-900.
The whole event was something of a rearguard action in response to negative press coverage and a narrative of cut backs and service failures.
In truth much of what was announced today is known already: BA has opened new lounges at Gatwick, a new security channel for First Class passengers and BA Executive Club Gold Cardholders at London Heathrow, it’s adding WiFi and revamping its Club World service with a new seat to come with the Airbus A350 in 2019.
You can read BA’s take on yesterday’s announcements at ba.com
One point that did catch our attention is BA’s new lounge refurbishment programme.
A number of trade unions representing employees of Alitalia are due to take industrial action on Wednesday 5 April 2017.
As a consequence, a substantial number of flights have been cancelled on Wednesday. In addition, there are a number of cancellations on Tuesday 4 April 2017 and Thursday 6 April 2017.
The background to the dispute is that Alitalia is currently in negotiations with its shareholders and banks over the airline’s future. Management have proposed a new business plan which would involve substantial redundancies which trade unions are protesting against.
Any one who has flown British Airways’ Club World long-haul business class on more than a handful of occasions will be more than familiar with the in flight service.
It begins with the offer of pre-take off drinks of champagne, orange juice and water. The hot towels, amenity kits and bottles of water are dispatched. There is a bar and main meal service, with one choice of coffee to follow. A widely varying offer of snacks are available in the self-service Club Kitchen. Before landing there is a second meal service, typically Afternoon Tea or a light breakfast, depending on the direction of travel.
Over the years the catering budget has gone up and down, depending on external and internal financial pressures. There have been small initiatives, such as the Heston Blumenthal inspired “Height Cuisine”, changes to the presentation of meals and the ability to pre-order a main course. The Club Kitchen gets periodically gutted and restocked. The quantity of sandwiches and cake for Afternoon Tea has been forever tweaked with. However, the service has fundamentally remained the same.
Poor Alex Cruz, CEO of British Airways, is having a hard time of late.
Barely a week goes by without a negative news article or comment piece in the British press (the latest from Victoria Coren-Mitchell in Sunday’s Observer) lamenting service cut backs on British Airways.
Alex Cruz, who arrived at the airline last year from Barcelona based low cost carrier Vueling, has become a lightening rod for criticism that the airline is hell bent on becoming no different to Ryanair.
The catalyst for this was the introduction of Buy on Board catering (with significant teething problems) on short-haul flights earlier this year.
This was one of the first decisions made by Alex Cruz (though it had been considered many times before his arrival). After grumblings online a number of newspapers have picked up on other service cut backs and there is now a clear PR narrative of cut backs and decline.
On long-haul it’s also been criticised for service cut backs (such the offer of a single solitary chocolate bar as the second meal service on long-haul economy and premium economy flights to the East Coast of the USA) and for doggedly sticking to its 2006 Club World business class seat whilst other airlines which were once light years behind BA (notably American Airlines, Delta and United whose products former BA CEO Willie Walsh once dismissed as “frankly crap”) have leapfrogged BA. The airline is also due to switch from 9 to 10 across seating in economy on many of its Boeing 777s.
This isn’t the first time BA has made cut backs to its service. After the events of 11 September 2001 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers which triggered the global financial crisis, BA reduced cabin crew numbers on flights and made substantial cut backs to in flight catering and amenities.
But BA is not losing money. It’s profitable. Last year it made a record operating profit in excess of £1.4bn. It’s also expanding, carrying 44.5m passengers last year.