British Airways has pledged to spend £4.5 billion on improving its passenger experience. This investment is on the back of a turbulent year in which the national carrier has suffered due to staff strikes, an IT failure that left tens of thousands of passengers stranded abroad, and criticism over a number of cuts – not least the removal of the most British necessity, complimentary tea!
With all this turmoil, can the airline reclaim its glory days or will it have to settle for a less glamorous position alongside the budget airlines? Let’s take a look at what exactly is happening at British Airways and just where the airline is heading.
CEO Alex Cruz has come out and said he wants the airline to be competitive once again and has pointed to areas where the investment will be utilised. These include £400m going towards an upgrade of Club World (long-haul business class), Club Europe being introduced on UK domestic services, new and updated lounges, direct security and lounge access from the First Wing at Heathrow, latest generation Wi-Fi fitted on long-haul and short-haul fleets over the next two years, and self-service check-in and biometric boarding gates to speed up the airport journey.
Speaking at the World Travel Market London earlier this week, Cruz has also revealed that the airline will be reinstating its policy of offering two full meals on certain long-haul flights, a sign that some of the flack the airline has gotten has been taken to heart.
He went on to state that an even bigger investment will go into its long-haul business class product, Club World, which will now have a £600 million injection, rather than the £400 million mentioned earlier in the year.
No going back
And although free onboard food won’t be coming back anytime soon, Cuz did point out some changes that had been made following discussions with staff and passengers.
“I know the introduction of buy-onboard catering on short-haul economy had its critics. I know we did not deliver it initially as well as we could have. We have listened to our customers and our cabin crew very carefully and we’ve made changes,” said Cruz.
“We’ve simplified the menus, we’ve allocated more crew to busier times, busier flights, to ensure we can provide a faster service. Take-up is running much, much higher than anticipated, but we are committed to making this element of the customer experience the very best in the airline industry,”
The first evidence of the investment can now be seen at the Concorde Room in Heathrow’s T5, where just this week the lounge has undergone a stylish makeover.
Improvements include re-upholstered furniture, the addition of new sofas and loungers in the terrace area, and the installation of more phone sockets.
Next on the agenda is improvements to British Airways’ lounge at New York’s JFK Terminal 7 as well as improvements to the check-in process. This will be followed by upgrades at lounges in Aberdeen, Rome, and Geneva, with further investment is then planned in San Francisco, Johannesburg and Chicago and Heathrow’s other lounges.
New Club World seat in two years
British Airways has set a launch date of 2019 for its new Club World seat, a development that will be the cornerstone of its new and improved business class product.
Following recent sleep business class sleep upgrades, the unveiling of the new seat will come just shy of two decades since the airline launched the world’s first fully flat business class bed in 2000.
While we don’t know a great deal about the new seat, we do know that it will offer direct aisle access for all passengers – something not currently offered by its existing product – although the 2-4-2 configuration is expected to remain. We also know it will be installed on the airline’s new wave of Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 787-10s, as well as possibly being fitted on some of its current aircraft.
The seat is reported to offer more privacy, come with more design-oriented touches such as increased storage space, and larger entertainment screens.
Fleet-wide high-speed wi-fi
Reliable and fast onboard wifi is no longer considered a luxury by passengers anymore, it’s a necessity. That’s why British Airways is keeping up with the crowd by upgrading its entire fleet with high-speed wifi.
Its short-haul fleet will utilise ground-based wifi, while its long-haul fleet will get a satellite-based service. Basic (text, browse, email) internet will start at £4.99, while “Connect Plus” will start from £7.99 and feature Netflix streaming capability. The service should be available incrementally over the next two years.
British Airways: A premium airline?
So, with all these improvements – and more than four billion pounds-worth still to come – can British Airways be considered a “premium airline”? That’s what its CEO Alex Cruz thinks.
Despite much criticism since taking over the chairman and CEO roles in April 2016, with accusations he is taking the airline downmarket, he maintains that certain changes had to be implemented if British Airways is to survive in the cut-throat aviation industry. An industry that offers plenty of competition in the way of low-cost carriers and affluent Middle Eastern airlines.
“As a national flag carrier, we are not granted some special immunity from the way the industry has changed. Incumbency does not grant any privilege. We have no divine right to flourish and we do not ask for one. The plight of airlines like Alitalia is testament to that. The lesson of recent years for flag carriers across Europe has been that if you don’t change habits formed in cosier eras you will shrink and ultimately risk irrelevance,” Cruz said.
Not budget but still a way off premium, just where British Airways fits into this industry is open to conjecture. The coming few years could well make or break the airline. Let’s hope they suffer no more unexpected troubles and the British flying giant can once again flourish.