British Airways Considering Charging For Food & Drinks In Economy

European airlines have had it really tough over the past decade. They’ve had to battle ultra low cost carriers in their home markets, cutting into the yields for much of their regional flying. On top of that, they’ve faced competition from the Gulf carriers for flights to Asia, Australia, and beyond, which has also reduced their yields on longhaul flights.

Emirates-A380
Carriers like Emirates have been cutting into yields for European carriers

Overall we’re seeing an identity crisis at many European airlines, as they’re trying to compete on all fronts. For example, in addition to Lufthansa’s main division, they’ve also developed a separate “Jump” division for longhaul leisure routes, as well as expanded their Germanwings/Eurowings division for regional leisure routes.

Germanwings
Germanwings A319 at Brussels Airport

While it’s probably smart to compete in as many areas as possible, one has to wonder whether they’re at risk of losing their identity at some point, and/or losing the synergies they otherwise have as an airline. After all, you can’t be all things to all people.

British Airways has been similarly challenged given the popularity of Ryanair and Easyjet. While British Airways has been maintaining their core business, they’ve been adjusting the business model a bit, by adding new fare classes which only include hand baggage, etc.

Well, it looks like the British Airways experience could soon very closely mimic the experience on Easyjet and Ryanair. British Airways’ new chief executive wants to start charging for food and drinks in economy on shorthaul flights.

British-Airways-Economy-1
Historically British Airways has offered complimentary drinks and snacks on all flights

Per The Telegraph:

Alex Cruz, who became chairman and chief executive of BA in April, believes the carrier should begin charging short-haul customers for upmarket meals and snacks.

Mr Cruz is understood to be considering bringing in Waitrose to provide premium range products to customers, in a move to boost the company’s revenues from short-haul flights.

A spokesman for BA said: “We are constantly reviewing every element of the experience our customers receive, including the in-flight catering, to ensure we’re delivering what they want.

“We are always innovating, for example, our new pre-paid meal option for customers travelling on our long-haul economy flights is proving enormously popular.

“The meals are an alternative to the normal complimentary menu, which remains on-board. Customers can instead choose to pre-order and pre-pay via ba.com for one of six enhanced meals, including gourmet dining, great British breakfast and taste of the east.”

Interestingly Alex Cruz is the former chief executive of Vueling, the Spanish low cost carrier. So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s trying to implement some low cost carrier tactics at British Airways as well.

British-Airways-A320
British Airways A320

Do I like to see airlines cutting services? Of course not. At the same time, from a practical standpoint I think it could make sense:

  • Most of the free food offered in economy is pretty crappy, so it’s almost better if they sell high quality snacks and meals rather than serve food which isn’t good
  • This could potentially reduce staffing costs as well; the number of people who buy food or drinks is only a small percentage of the people on the plane, so for shorthaul flights British Airways could potentially cut staffing, since the service won’t be as intensive (presently the crews are busy on those London to Paris/Amsterdam/Brussels flights)

The key is that what they do sell is high quality, and ideally that those on high fares still get complimentary drinks and snacks. This could come in the form of being able to pre-order something, or in the form of coupons when you check-in, which can be redeemed onboard. This is also something US airlines have done pretty well with for elites. For example, American gives their Executive Platinum members in economy a complimentary snack and alcoholic beverage, which I find to be a nice touch.

British-Airways-Economy
British Airways A320 cabin on a shorthaul flight

Bottom line

I don’t think anyone likes to see airlines cutting services, though for intra-Europe travel I can’t blame the legacy carriers for wanting to adjust their service a bit. While the complimentary drinks and snacks are nice, I doubt British Airways is getting much of a return on investment for offering them. If they can introduce a high quality selection and comp it for those on higher fares and/or elite members, I don’t think this would be all that much of a loss.

How do you feel about the prospect of British Airways charging for food and drinks in shorthaul economy? Do you think it will happen?

Comments

  1. I hope that is coffee and not tea in the photo. BA seems to think that brewing tea until it’s darker than coffee and as bitter as crushed Tylenol is acceptable. They would need to pay me to drink it.

  2. I was surprised when I got a meal on some BA shorthauls. It was a nice surprise compared to US carriers, but hardly made me choose them.

  3. If they make you pay for snacks and reduce the prices of the flights they sell in Europe compared to FR & EZ then i’m all for it.

    I almost never eat the free food on BA flights under 3 hours, because its some awful sandwich that I’m just not interested in eating, I would rather save a bit on the fare and then if I need some food, I can buy a good quality item.

    This would be a different story if they were making you pay in long haul.

    They need to stick with this times and be competitive, so this is a logical move.

  4. Don’t care about food on “short” haul. Same time I’m ready to crawl over the seats to “talk” to someone who brings Chinese or similar smelling food and stars eating it. (yes, hamburgers with bacon and French fries smell as bad too) oh…. then they get on the phone with their mouth full of that crap….

  5. Great post Lucky. BA already charges a premium to FLY BA period: just look at the price differences between BA and LCC’s, even after they launched “handbag only” fares.

    If the aircraft is the same, and the baggage is the same, and both carriers don’t give food.. what exactly is the difference?

    Are people just going to be paying for the brand name? 1″ of extra legroom? BA service and smiles? 25% mileage accrual for O fares?

    Ryanair and Easyjet will eat them alive if they start going from full-service carrier to buy-on-board like the US legacies. Carry-ons have always been free on EZ and FR.

  6. Few passengers will mourn the loss of a free stale sandwich but, if BA gouges people on booze, it’ll drag them down to being perceived as “just another nickel-&-diming airline.” It’s irrational, but having a free glass of sparkling wine on your way to Paris makes me feel like I’m on the anti-Ryanair… and I’d probably (again, irrationally) pay 20 quid for that.

    Where AA has been quite clever, by contrast, is in setting up the expectation that drinks cost money, and then, in my experience, in practice, routinely flouting that rule — giving drinks for free to passengers who are elite, or who are upset, or who are nice, or who are anything but totally ordinary. I was flying LAX-JFK yesterday and had 4 drinks in 5 hours. I only paid for one of them. If BA did that, maybe it could be a net PR win.

  7. People fly “full service” for a reason. If you gotta start paying for the bits and pieces, then surely “full service” prices should start coming down.
    For me, I fly LCC on vacation and am fine to pay for the extras (which I usually skip for short 2-3 hour hops).
    But when flying on work, I’m paying full price. I expect full service.

  8. BA is getting Walshed, a process of converting an FSC to virtual LCC by grinding down all efficiencies.

    Hope Oxford dictionary will add this term.

  9. ““The meals are an alternative to the normal complimentary menu, which remains on-board. ”

    So actually they are just bringing a BOB inflight, but will still offer the same menu.

  10. Watch out for bag searches leaving the lounges, as people just take the crisps (chips) bottles of soft drinks etc and sarnis in a doggy bag, to go

  11. If I may – I think one should be a bit more reserved in the giving of sympathy to British Airways. This is an airline who has a near monopoly on all point to point LHR routes in Europe and an outrageous amount of LHR slots (to the detriment of carriers such as Little Red (RIP)). Their parent, IAG, owns a collection of airlines which are either already LCCs or quickly heading in such a direction. This isn’t a reaction to competitive pressures and poor performance – it’s penny pinching.

  12. Okay, I perfectly understand why Ben doesn’t care about the move and like: go of it. However I can’t agree on the statement that BA serves trash on those short haul European flights.

    I’m the one who actually fly a lot in Euro traveller and I can say: BA product is indeed better then competitors. Even on flights such as LHR to LIN, ZRH, OSL, BGO (1h30m to 2h) they serve a pretty tasty chicken sandwich (mostly similar to the pre-arrival sandwich in Club World on LHR-NYC) or pita sandwich which is also good. On top of that bar service really means bar: they can mix BM, G&T or other common cocktails for you. In economy. On a 1h30m flight.

    If it’s gone it will be really bad move.

  13. Not to be rude or whatever, but a huge reason ‘mainstream’ airlines are struggling are the huge labour costs and the difficulty they face cutting them – all thanks to trade unions. While I recognise the importance of labour laws and protecting the rights of cabin crew and pilots (*ahem* Qatar?), some of the trade unions, especially in European markets, is overprotecting their members to the extent they are in the long run harming themselves. Take away the anti-competition measures countries have in place, there is no way these airlines with outdated cost structures would survive…

  14. If European labor unions would not shut operation every freaking month causing millions of revenue loss for these airlines every time, than may be, just may be they turn profit. Great, now I sound like Trump,

  15. @Charlie

    I thought WW was coaching US3 on how to compete with ME3. Why is he copying their model now?

    No legacy western carrier can replace all its work force with 22 year old Eastern Europeans with minimum pay and no labor rights.

    WW done cutting everything else now only thing left is customer experience. US3 did the same long back and lost long haul market to ME3.

  16. If this is what they’re planning for short and medium haul flights, fine. Most people can hold out for one or two hours. However if they plane to get rid of the food and drink on long haul flights then that’s getting rid of basic decency. If you are confined in a tight space for a long intercontinental flight, then food needs to be served, period. Also, they should resist the ridiculous temptation to charge 5 or 6 dollars for an alcoholic beverage on an intercontinental flight. I’m not saying get people loaded, but a glass of wine does wonders to help relax. You want people relaxed. I’m delighted that both American and Delta started offering complimentary glasses of wine or beer .

  17. IAG made their biggest ever profit last year, the union bashing on this blog’s comments is pretty ridiculous. It is penny-pinching pure and simple.

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