British Airways Is Revamping Their Business Class Experience

Yesterday British Airways had a media flight from London Gatwick to London Heathrow to unveil some changes they’re making to their product. I was invited, though unfortunately couldn’t make it. Today British Airways has outlined these changes to the public. They’re calling it “a new BA,” and these changes have the tagline “new thinking, new flying.”

So, what’s changing at British Airways? Here are the bullet points they use to describe these changes:

  • £400m in Club World (long-haul business class)
  • Introducing Club Europe on UK domestic services
  • New lounges
  • First Wing direct security and lounge access at Heathrow
  • Latest generation Wi-Fi fitted on long-haul and short-haul fleets over the next two years
  • Self-service check-in and biometric boarding gates to speed up the airport journey

Here’s a video outlining some of the changes:

British Airways Club World is getting new food and bedding

British Airways has the worst fully flat business class product I’ve flown on any airline. That’s not to say it’s the worst out there, but I don’t know of a fully flat business class product I like less. So it’s nice to see that they’re making some investments to improve the sleep and dining experience for passengers. Specifically:

  • Starting in July, Club World passengers will get fresh new linens, bigger pillows, and a soft mattress topper and duvet
  • Starting in September, a new premium dining service will be rolled out in Club World, with display trolleys that allow passengers to select starters and desserts, along with a “revamped service approach that will be delivered to customers with a new culinary boutique experience” (whatever that means)

I’m very excited about the new bedding. Presently British Airways’ business class pillow is about as thick as a magazine, and their blanket is scratchy. So I think that change is awesome.

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As far as the food goes, I’ll reserve judgment until I try it myself, though it sure sounds like most of the changes are being made to how food is presented, rather than what’s served.

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However, do note that this is only being rolled out on flights between London Heathrow and New York JFK as of the above dates, while it will be rolled out on other routes throughout 2018. So it’s going to be over a year until most flights have this improved service.

A new Club World seat is coming in 2019

British Airways also plans to introduce a new Club World seat in 2019, though the details of that aren’t yet officially available. Apparently they’re hoping to have direct aisle access from every seat. I’ve written in the past about the seat that British Airways is rumored to be introducing. With the seat only being introduced in 2019, I suspect Heathrow’s third runway will be open before the entire fleet has the new seat. 😉

British-Airways-New-Business-Class

Better ground services

British Airways will be investing a lot of money in their lounges, and their new First Wing also just opened at Heathrow. This is essentially a fast track security for first class passengers and oneworld Emerald members to get through security faster, and the checkpoint lets out directly into the lounge.

British-Airways-First-Wing

British Airways is adding inflight wifi

Here’s how British Airways describes their new wifi offerings:

Shortly customers in all cabins will start to enjoy the latest generation of Wi-Fi as it’s rolled out across British Airways’ long-haul network.  Short-haul Wi-Fi will commence later in the year when British Airways becomes the first airline to offer connectivity using Europe’s first ever 4G high-speed inflight network with the aim of having 90 per cent of its total fleet connected by 2019.

Customers will be able to use their own devices to browse the internet, access email and check social media. In addition, they will have the ability to stream video content from popular sites such as Netflix and YouTube.

There will be a choice of two options: Simply Connect or Connect Plus. Customers can choose whether they connect for one hour, four hours or the full flight. Simply Connect supports basic web browsing, email and instant messaging with prices from £4.99 while Connect Plus provides a faster connection speed supporting video streaming services from £7.99.

My thoughts on British Airways’ changes

Of course it’s hard to take British Airways seriously when they use a tagline like “new thinking, new flying” to describe these changes. All of these changes come just a couple of months after British Airways cut free food and drinks on intra-Europe flights.

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They’re anything but a premium airline, though clearly they’re strategically investing. Even so, these investments will at best make them a mediocre airline, and that’s being generous.

But here’s the thing — I think their strategy is exactly right. Do I like flying with British Airways? Not really. But the reality is that they don’t care if I do. They don’t care if most of us like flying with them. They own the most slots at one of the most coveted airports in the world. The question isn’t whether you want to fly British Airways, but rather whether you want to travel to London. That’s what British Airways has going for them.

So I think their strategy here is smart, as much as I don’t like it as a customer. They know where they’re getting a return on investment. It’s not by offering free food and drinks on intra-Europe flights. It’s not by offering an industry leading first or business class product. As long as British Airways doesn’t suck so much that people book away from them when traveling to London (which is tough to do, given their route network), they’re golden.

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I think that’s exactly what British Airways’ CEO, Alex Cruz, says in a much more diplomatic way in the press release:

“It’s simple really – we need to deliver what our customers value most, where they value it most. We need to focus on enhancing premium – offering contemporary service, improved catering and lounges and a consistent experience. In economy, where we know that price is the driver, we need to focus our efforts on delivering more seats at the lowest fares and giving customers choices.”

What do you make of British Airways’ upcoming investments?

Comments

  1. Does this mean that the First Wing is now open? I have a flight through T5 next week but I thought it would only be ready towards the end of the year.

  2. Wow. They just copied Hyundai’s tagline, “New thinking. New possibilities.” Very innovative, indeed.

  3. I’ve only ever flown with them once. It was an okay experience. If you live in Europe, as I do, it’s very easy to avoid them if you want to. They’re often also not the most budget-friendly option.

  4. Based on past reviews, I’ve avoided BA. My last few times I’ve had to book them, but able to move to AA at the last min, or get on a VA flight. I’m ok with a connection with a superior product over a non-stop and an inferior one. I might give them a try with a better hard product.

  5. I fly BA business a couple of times a year, not by choice but because I usually ticket as AA to keep my EXP status. I can get a lot more EQM flying AA/BA to India than QR. Having said that, I dread flying BA. Their biz class is not competitive at all. The seats and IFE are terrible. If they could just replace the old monitors in the seats that would be a huge improvement. Their soft produce is decent (not great but decent), but their hard product needs a complete revamp. Having said that, every time I have flown with them the biz class cabin is full so I can’t imagine them wanting to reduce the seats (from the current 8 across to something like 4 or 6 across) as it would be a huge impact to their revenue stream.

  6. John S nailed it. BA routinely fills its Business Class with passengers, for all the reasons that Lucky explained. So why would BA ever go from 8-across to 4-across and effectively deny their flights to half their premium flyers while also lowering their own revenues?

    And remember also that BA has a First cabin that is considerably better, and sometimes it’s only $1,000 or so more if you feel that strongly.

    The reality is that the BA product is as good as it needs to be.

  7. @Lucky, are you going to try out the First Wing soon after opening? I don’t think it’s going to rock anyone’s world, but it would be great to see a firsthand perspective–yours in particular.

  8. There are already plenty of reports on the First “corridor”- google it. No need to encourage Lucky to come to the UK to do that – we all know he hates LHR in any event and we all know what kind of comments will be made. But yes he has got it right this time – as someone said above BA are as “good as they need to be”. Also and to be fair to this site, it has at least acknowledged that for Americans at least business class flights on BA can be had very cheaply factoring in various sales and deals. Whether or not that’s what you are after is up to the individual. To be blunt BA do not care in the least what British customers really think so you can imagine what they think of American opinions.

  9. Indeed, I’m surprised they even gave Lucky an invite since he hasn’t a good word to say about the airline. Or Heathrow. Or British food. Or anything connected with Britain actually. Period.

    Whatever happened to that blonde Swedish boy who cuts in lines who adores Norwegian? He hasn’t been on here for ages. Daniel?

  10. Even as a Ba Gold customer I had enough of their nonsense tbh. Grumpy checkin staff. Poor onboard service. Cheapest quality food. Business class seats are a joke. Prices are worse than many. I don’t believe all the Crap about improvement – customer service is not in their culture. I have moved now to the Middle East carriers ie proper airlines.

  11. Lucky you get many things right in this article but you are usually too harsh on BA. The window seats are one of the most private pods in the sky and in spite of everything else that is hard to beat. Wifi coming will be awesome. Yes they don’t really need to compete as hard at LHR.

  12. British Airways isnt thaaaaaaat bad! Their business seat configurations are terrible and very awkward, but besides that theyre okay.

  13. Let me see….
    $800 for a “fuel surcharge” on an award ticket…
    Dinging business class customers real money for the privilege of selecting a seat…
    They still doing that? Yeah. Fine. That’s all I need to know, I’ll look elsewhere.

  14. I think putting up with BA is a very English thing, much like the way one puts up with the railway system or the NHS.
    It is charming and almost endearing. Like wearing a worn out pair of comfortable slippers, while laughing off any negative comments from others, who you know deep down do not really get it.

  15. I have to choose between AA coach (MCE) and BA premium economy for a forthcoming flight. Any recommendations? [No business class this time, maybe in future. :)]

  16. As a Frenchman who over the past 20 years has consistently had problems with Air France, I will always consider flying out of Orly with British Airways and going through London.

    Lucky: your analysis is right on the mark. British Airways does not have to be the “great” airline. It just has to be better than the majority of its competitors and that is not too hard to do.

  17. British Airways is simply doing the minimum necessary; for the next 10 years, while the third runway is being planned and eventually constructed, they will put in the minimum investment! Whatever new Club World will be in 2019, is very much another “evolution” not a revolution! The revolution will come just as the third runway and new terminal opens welcoming in more solid competition from a network perspective, not just product, and killing the value of their current slots. This is great planning for the future, only they’re not planning for the customer but for the Bank Manager!

  18. First off, their seat configuration I’ll take any day if your on the left or right side. Knowing I can address the aisle without climbing over anyone is a major benefit.

    Secondly, to those wondering why would they chance on losing business seats for a be format, well they won’t, mostly. Ba has recently moved to 3 class planes instead of 4. So for routes that generate less first class travel but need more business, they took out first all together. It allows them to make more money knowing business will likely be filled. Boston had this for the past year until the a380 installation at Logan airport. Now a few tints a week they can have 4 class again and not lose business seats 27th the 380.

    Now as a disclaimer I fly ba often. Yes the ife in many planes has not been updated as fast as it should but the selection of programming is usually great. The business seats are old in terms of innovation but they were also the best when they first came out, so ask for a second pillow. Itchy blankets keep you warmer, army fact. The new bedding is basically the first bedding so it’s not really new new. As for food…this is my gripe because it’s hit or miss, 50/50. The odds of good airline food should be 70/30 in premium seating. They could also use some fresh culinary ideas, British food is good these days.

    Lastly, do not ever take any world that comes out of Walsh’s or cruz’s mouth with any honesty. They are both tactic, unabashed, and savage business men. Walsh sideways days f.u. to anyone challenges him and Cruz comes from budget airlines and is in line to replace Walsh. He is possibly worse than Walsh.

    It’s a shame ba has hurt their own brand to save money to fasten the executive pockets but they’d the way it goes these days. It might take a total failure to bring in someone to strengthen it again. They claim they are being hurt by budget long haul carriers line Norwegian, but as someone who knows how full their planes are on s regular basis, id’s a lame excuse just to cut costs to improve the bottom line for personal gain.

  19. We live in Scottsdale, Arizona where unfortunately the ONLY international airline ( I don’t count Canada or Mexico) is BA to LHR. They fly their oldest 747’s with the worst biz class seats of any airline I have ever flown (and I’m up to 154 countries so have flown a lot of them). What imbecile ever thought that people would like sitting backwards? The seats are so cramped and other than a foot locker for your shoes there is no storage compartment whatsoever. The monitors are old and fuzzy and A/V equipment breaks regularly. The food is mediocre at best. To add insult to injury they now dump us in T3 at LHR instead of T5. We have switched to First Class which admittedly is much better than biz but still sadly lacking compared to many other airlines. We find the ground staff and cabin crew very good but their Indian call center people are utterly incompetent.

  20. Peter,

    And yet which is a better airline or airplane to fly out of Phoenix than a BA 747?

    An American 767? A United 757? A SouthWest 737? A Delta 717? And all of those planes are probably as old or older than a 747-400.

  21. Getting rid of BA’s outrageous fuel surcharges for award tickets would improve my opinion of their product way more than any of these proposed changes.

  22. I’m always in two minds with BA, and I think it is to do with the inconsistency of purpose. Service is generally to British standards – that is to say mixed. You get some fantastic people, and others that have the typical, “that’s not in my job description” attitude. Their processes work the same.

    A prime example was a day trip between London and Madrid last weekend. BA upgraded me on the outward flight to Business as a result of my Oneworld Emerald status with Qantas. It was a B777, so had the flat bed. Can’t complain about that for a £42 fare booked two days earlier. However, as this was a Club Europe sector rather than a Club World one, they didn’t switch on the inflight entertainment. What an opportunity lost.

    On the return flight that evening, again on a £42 fare, I was allocated the front row of economy, with an empty seat next to me. Again fantastic. However, this time they didn’t load priority entry onto my boarding pass, so I was told to go and have my boarding pass stamped by the security guard. I had a look at the lengthy queue for standard entry, so decided to do that. The check-in clerk (an Iberia employee) said that BA only loads the priority entry for BA frequent flyers, and the manual stamp for access is even required for Iberia premium customers at Iberia’s main hub, let alone other oneworld partners. A surprising thing to do for your sister airline.

    I know this is a first world problem, but is a prime example of whyI have difficultly recommending BA. They start by going by making me feel valued as a customer by providing privileges to a partner’s frequent flyer, but then manage to disappoint soon after.

    With the recent decisions to remove the free drink in economy on short haul flights, removal of one free checked luggage and free seat allocation from oneworld premium customers means they now have no effective points of difference and are truly competing against LCCs on cost. If I lived on the north side of London and closer to Luton or Stansted, then there would be little to draw me to Heathrow, Gatwick or City to catch BA on short haul, and with more LCCs flying trans-atlantic, I can see the same happening on long haul.

  23. I seem to be the only one who likes LHR. Ternimal 2 or Ternimal 5 are better then any US airport I have flown out of. Or for that matter Frankfurt or Paris.

  24. I am not sure if this is stupid or genius. How about we just agree that Cruz is an evil genius? As much as we all miss the days when everyone is a valued customer, the truth is most people don’t care if their hands are tied to a plank and rusty nails are put into their wrists during a flight as long as it’s cheap. And they get to bitch about it on social media of course. The day when economy class passengers make it clear that they want a better experience is the day economy won’t be cheapening. It just makes me sad that most people think flying, one of mankinds greatest achievements, is a form of torture nowadays. Who knows?

  25. I flew Club Europe for the first time in years this week and i was appalled. Exact Same seat and legroom as economy, just no one sitting directly next to you, plus a meal is included. Very poor service too.

    I was also shocked to see they now charge even for water in economy class on European flights!

    BA used to be a premium airline but theyre now mediocre at best.

  26. third world seating strategy in business class makes you feel ashamed to be British,I would never fly with them again . Avoid

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