Official: British Airways Will Charge For Food & Drinks On Shorthaul Flights

Early last week I wrote about the rumors that British Airways will begin switching to a “buy on board” model for shorthaul flights. British Airways’ current CEO used to be the head of Spanish low cost carrier Vueling, and it seems he’s trying to expand his low cost carrier ideas to British Airways.

Well, this change is now official. British Airways will begin charging for all food & drinks in shorthaul economyThis will apply on all shorthaul flights out of London Heathrow and London Gatwick as of January 11, 2017, and on all London City and London Stansted flights by summer 2017.

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We’re used to airlines spinning negative changes as “enhancements”, but British Airways’ press release on this change is next-level spin. The headline of the announcement of British Airways eliminating free food & drinks is “British Airways And Marks & Spencer Join Forces To Provide Best Food In The Sky For Short-Haul Customers.”

Really?

British Airways’ CEO of course highlights what a fantastic change this is, and that it’s due to customer feedback:

Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said: “We know our customers expect a great experience with British Airways. They’ve told us we are experts in flying and service, but when it comes to catering on short-haul flights, they want to choose from a wider range of premium products. Like British Airways, Marks & Spencer is a well-known, premium British brand that is respected and trusted, so it’s an ideal partnership, providing our customers with a choice of products they recognise and value.”

“I firmly believe what we are delivering breaks the mould and sets a new standard in short-haul catering.  We will be providing a selection of premium brand, fresh food options and a menu that will be refreshed on a quarterly basis.

“We will also enable travellers to be able to use their Avios, the points they earn as an Executive Club member, to purchase meals. We know they’re always looking for ways to use their Avios and this is a great option for them.”

So, what can we expect in terms of the offerings?

Prices will range from £1 for hand cooked crisps up to £4.95 for a Balanced for You spiced chicken with quinoa and rice salad.

Breakfast options will include Greek style natural yogurt with summer berry compote and granola (£1.95), classic fruit salad with pineapple, melon, mango, apple, kiwi and blueberries (£3.10). Hot options will be the M&S Café bacon roll with pork from British farmers (£4.75) and a tomato and mozzarella focaccia (£4.75).

Fresh sandwiches will be available including the Aberdeen Angus beef and red onion chutney bloomer (£4.75) and the classic cheese ploughman’s with nine-month aged farmhouse mature cheddar and vine ripened tomatoes, pickle and mixed salad (£3.00).

Other snacks will include a nut assortment of almonds, brazil, cashew and hazelnuts (£1.60), wasabi peas (£1.60), salted cashews (£1.60), Oriental snack mix (£2), super fruit, nut and seed flapjacks (£1.45), salt & vinegar and lightly salted hand-cut crisps (both £1).

Confectionery options will include a made without wheat salted caramel hazelnut millionaire bar (£1.45), a grab-bag sized milk chocolate covered popping popcorn and pretzels (£2.45), packs of mini oat biscuits (£1.10), Swiss milk chocolate mountain bars (£1.70), the famous Percy Pigs (£1.80) and ‘The Whippy One’ (£1).

The airline will also offer customers a full bar service with soft drinks priced from £1.50 and alcoholic drinks from £4.

So yeah, they’ll even be charging for water and coffee. You can also redeem Avios for any of the buy on board items, and it seems like the rate is roughly one Avios per US cent (give or take), which isn’t an especially good deal.

Shorthaul business class passengers will continue to be offered complimentary meals, which are being “improved and revamped from spring 2017 as part of the changes to shorth-haul catering.” The exact changes should be announced nearer to when the changes are implemented.

Given that British Airways views charging for water and coffee as something their customers should thank them for, I’m a bit worried. 😉

Initially there was speculation that business class passengers would simply get buy on board food & drinks for free, so we’ll see what happens.

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Bottom line

On one hand I don’t blame British Airways for these changes, because they’re facing tough competition within Europe. Do I like to see airlines cut service? Of course not. But at the same time this could very nicely help them improve their performance. Long term they may even be able to staff some flights with fewer crew given the reduced service requirements.

At the same time, free food & drinks was one of the few things differentiating British Airways from the competition, and that advantage is now gone.

What really drives me nuts, though, is this press release. It’s next level spin.

What do you make of British Airways charging for all food & drinks on shorthaul flights?

Comments

  1. Personally I don’t see this as a cut in service. Currently you get a bag of crisps or something. I much prefer the option of buying something more substantial or just not bothering.

    Of course it would be nice to see a cost reduction in the ticket to go with it, but in reality that has already happened.

  2. I’m a little confused.
    You wrote this: This will apply on all shorthaul flights out of London Heathrow and London Gatwick as of January 11, 2017, and on all London Heathrow and London Stansted flights by summer 2017.”

    So does London Heathrow start in January or summer 2017? Or am I missing something?

  3. SO GOING TO RAPE THE LOUNGE OFFERINGS BEFORE GETTING ON THE FLIGHT!!!!!

    (caps on purpose from a very annoyed BA customer)

  4. The coffee is so terrible they’d have to pay me to drink it.

    On the other hand they could at least offer still water. The rest of the snacks was pretty poor anyway. Hardly a change from my point of view, and if I really am peckish it’ll be nice to have the option to buy some food (which was never an option before).

  5. @Jason

    There could be Luton (I can’t remember them flying much out of there though…), Southend (ditto) and City Airport.

    It’s interesting to keep Stansted until last, since it’s mostly a low-cost carrier airport to start with (big base for Ryanair and Easyjet). But could be for logistical reasons.

  6. The quote “….They’ve told us we are experts in flying and service…” is just hilarious. When was the last time someone enjoyed their BA flight? Every blogger seems to complain, especially what a crappy business class they have.

  7. Honestly, plain water should be the bare minimum offered. I guess it’s not that bad because it’s still cheaper than what you would buy in the airport. Besides if you’re really desperate you can use the avios you earned during the flight (if you fly BA again).

  8. So If I were the likes of Ryan Air , I would start running commercials having people in the airport tasting their food against that sold on British Airways flights. That would reall make the executives at BA insane.

  9. Why partner with Marks and Spencer? This is a place to buy underwear not food. Mostly known as a mediocre store to buy essentials at a good price.

  10. Would much rather prefer a decent sandwich for $7-8 than a free piece of rubbery chicken with overcooked vegetables.

  11. On one hand, flying intra-Europe is just a whole different game–but if I don’t have the time to buy something at the airport, I think this makes sense. As long as the food quality is better than what the complimentary offering would be (it should be).

    On the other hand, I think the long-haul to short-haul experience won’t translate well for many travellers–particularly those in premium economy.

  12. Any indication that they’ll match AA’s “free food & drink for Emeralds” policy? If so, then I’d be very happy with this change.

  13. Honestly I’d rather have for-purchase food that didn’t suck vs. free food that I don’t want to eat. If they just kept water free, this actually would be a positive change IMO.

  14. @ Eric J – Most M&S (the store’s current name which makes it seem a little less old codger) have been taken over almost entirely by the food section which is massive in the larger stores. Lots of grab and go items, packaged cookies and other sweets that range from not bad to actually quite good. None of these, however, are worth BA’s inflated prices. Of course, if you are starving, £5 for a flimsy sandwich won’t seem so ridiculous. Better yet, take your own care package of M&S goodies aboard with you.

  15. They are still offering cups of water for free – bottled water will cost money. In some ways its a big improvement over the “complimentary food and drink onboard” which turns out to be a packet of 2 biscuits on a 3hr flight. The prices are near identical to what M&S charges at their LHR/LGW stores.

  16. The food offerings in BA short haul economy are so small that if you were hungry and were willing to pay for something more substantial, you would just have to remain hungry until the flight landed so I think this is a good idea, plus M&S food is generally very nice indeed.

    However, where BA are really going to lose out is buy not offering free drinks, this is something that surely differentiated them from other airlines and as a BA regular myself, I always looked forward to a couple of drinks from the bar – that will be a big miss.

  17. Having done a number of BA long-haul and short-haul flights in every cabin this year, the cuts in catering are subtle but steady. This announcement is not a surprise. I do think @Justin is right, especially younger customers are more selective about what they eat for both health and taste reasons and therefore will accept the change. But I can’t help think of the frog in the boiling water proverb. I’ve already jumped out of the warm water to QR for transatlantic travel.

  18. I’d like to understand how they can justify this for passengers who have already purchased tickets for travel after these dates. Those people where promised a certain level of catering that they aren’t going to get.

  19. @Eric. M&S should ditch everything else apart from the food. Their food rocks.

    Also from the price of the salad they are not adoing a mark up on board.

    I do an M&S carry on as it is, makes no odds to me.

  20. Sounds like a good move.

    I’d rather pay for a quality food option than a sub-standard sandwich/snack…assuming I haven’t already eaten in the lounge.

    The only change to this is to remember to bring an empty bottle when travelling to decant water from the bottles in the lounge for the flight.

  21. Wait what? Charging even water and coffee? It’s gonna make BA even more LCC-like than Germanwings, Air Berlin and the other LCC-like airlines…alrighty I m gonna fly my last flight with BA this November and never touch them again…

  22. Seat pitch in Club Europe ihas already been “enhanced” to 31″, just like economy. If they eliminate catering and just start handing out BOB snack items in Club, that’s going to be very disappointing.

  23. It’s sad as I viewed BA as a better product however it’s short haul with tough competition out of London. If I were looking to cut costs, this is easy one (although personally I’d rather slash fuel surcharge). They probably have a revenue sharing agreement or other with M&S, which surprisingly has good food takeaway products. We live in a customized for me world, why continue serving everyone same thing – give us choices and pay if you use/consume

    I usually bring my own food onboard from T5 anyway so not a big deal for me. When I fly long haul I order special meal.

  24. I would appreciate if they kept free water and coffee. For the food, better to buy something good than get bad stuff for free. The prices seem reasonable, if the quality and quantity are OK, fine. Problem could be if they constantly run out of things and people who count on buying something go hungry. Unfortunately that often happens with these buy on board models.

  25. I was surprised that they will charge for drinks, given that they’re used to be a full service airline. Well, I will appreciate this policy if their quality of food improves. It’s better to have a paid good quality of food rather than free low quality snacks

  26. Just watch. AA will now start charging for beverages, including water. Water should ALWAYS be free and available, it is a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT. Next thing you know, AA/BA will start charging for using the bathroom.

  27. I’m very much with Lucky and others: Water should be free! This in particular, since airport security doesn’t allow anything more than 100ml. So you end up that you either have to buy overpriced water at the airport or equally overpriced one on the plane ….

    Yes, water is a human right.

  28. Unfortunately, I have to agree with one one the predominant themes of this discussion: BA is increasingly offering less without lowering the fares, essentially Easy Jet/ Ryan Air but without the cheaper fares. I am a bronze executive card holder, travelling mostly UK and Continental Europe for work and some leisure.

    One example: I get to select my seat 7 days in advance for free. It used to be just a few months ago if you paid in advance for this beyond 7 days, it was £7 or £10, it is now £18. Similar service on Easy Jet is £4.50.

    There has to be some inducement for customer loyalty or there just won’t be any. I have already switched two trips to Benelux and northern England for work to train (even during peak times) as it is cheaper and broadly similar in time. Not because of free food, but BA’s very un-competitive pricing on certain routes.

    It is fine to be cost competitive, but not at any cost.

    Mr. Cruz and Mr. Walsh need to seriously wake up or they will start to see serious loss of regular customers.

  29. I am done with BA. We already purchased our tickets for travel in April next year with the condition that beverages and food would be served on-board for free. Now, BA have decided not to honor this service which I have purchased from them. Its like paying for a drink in the bar, never receiving it.
    Absolute rubbish. BA should offer customers with bookings made before the announcement date an allowance for food and beverage to select from the menu without a charge. I would also argue that BA ae competing unfairly with other carriers as they have been offering a product which they have downgrade within their own operational control.

  30. ^^^^ What Johan wrote: “BA should offer customers with bookings made before the announcement date an allowance for food and beverage to select from the menu without a charge.”

    They steadfastly refuse to do this. I have asked, several times, using more than one channel. BA has become a dishonest, unethical corporation. They won’t honor the complimentary meal and beverage EVEN if you purchased your ticket prior to the changes in catering. It turns out they might give you some Avios points for a couple of cups of coffee if you pester them but only enough for a snack, and you’re s.o.l. if you have multiple-leg flights shorter than 5 hours with minimal connection time. They have sunk so low they won’t offer fair compensation to honest paying customers blindsided by the elimination of complimentary services.

  31. The prices are higher than real Marks and Spencer products, but M&S food is very good quality. I did spot Alex Cruz at Waterside speaking to someone and I felt the need to say something, but I reigned myself in.

  32. The food, I can kind of understand. But the drinks? One of the reasons I always loved BA so much(and going out of my way to choose them over budget airlines) was that I could expect complimentary wine/gin/whisky etc. On board. It really does make a difference. I’m afraid this might be the final straw for me and I will no longer pay that little bit extra to fly with BA.

  33. Have always flown with BA but flights booked for next year are now with other carriers who still provide free drinks and food at similar or cheaper cost. We booked BA because we liked the ‘extras’ but it is now a budget airline charging more than other budget airlines. Expect that the luggage allowance will change next year and certainly the leg room on our last flight was less than normal. Sorry BA but I think you will lose a lot of customers with your penny pinching!!

  34. I don’t know where BA got this market research to say stop complementary meals we prefer to pay for it ! I’ve yet to find anyone who agrees with this idea and certainly no one asked me for my opinion. If you want to buy something different, you always have the option in the endless airport shops before boarding. I suggest they look seriously at your market research company if this is true though I suspect the real reason is cost cutting, BA just doesn’t want to admit it. You would be better off to admit it, customers would have more sympathy than trying to promote this policy as some benefit to the customer when clearly you are removing benefit and keeping price the same, we can all see through the attempted deception and it does the image no good.To tell me that charging £1.80 for water or soft drink is a bargain when I can buy the same thing in Tesco for 63p insults my intelligence, they are exploiting the fact that passengers cannot carry liquids through security so they have a captive market, again a great image to promote to the world.
    Making me pay to combat health threatening dehydration when flying for several hours on BA aircraft is morally wrong and starts to infringe my human rights and duty of care to me as a passenger.
    Where possible myself and family will now actively seek to avoid being a BA passenger where any alternative exists. I’m sorry to see our flag carrier in such a state that it is reduced to that of a budget airline.

  35. Cutting snacks and soft drinks maybe okay, but cutting water is not right. What if you are family of 5 (mom, dad and 3 kids), so you have to spend 10 pounds just for the water??
    Or, if you are business traveler, flying with connections, how you put the water on your expense report??!! Most of the companies do not allow fly business/first (even price difference is not that big), and by company’s policy, ones could not expence beverages of any kind.

    Air Berlin is low cost, but they provide beverages and sometimes give you chocolate upon arrival at the exit. I never take it, but it is very nice to see, airline appreciate you being on board.
    Just a week ago flew BA from LHR to Berlin, very bad. I did not know about cutting services and asked for water, flight attendant was very rude, so I decided not to use any of their servises for pay.

  36. Is there any Oneworld member in Europe left serving food / beverages on board that is included in the ticket?

    You can always bring your own sandwich and water on board. The experience will be different. They will lose the contact with passengers. There is always some interaction between the crew and passengers while serving refreshment. Just to go through a cabin offering food for purchase is similar to a duty-free trolley.

    LOT Polish Airlines has introduced a new on board concept recently. They give you a cookie and water / tea / coffee free of charge. The rest you can buy if you wish to. A kind of nice compromise.

  37. Just flew BA Econ/EuroT fm FRA>LHR (downgraded fm Club World Biz bc 1st flight cancelled and all other Biz seats were sold-out). Only beverages for purchase for those w BRITISH CREDIT CARDS. No free plain drinking water. My US card didn’t work w BA system so nothing for 2 hr flight. I’m Exec Club Silver. FA tried my AVIOS points but the Avios server was down. Inhumane new BA policy. Can’t be good for business in the long run.

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