First, let us start by saying, we welcome – nay applaud – investment into a new Club World product for British Airways. The past few months and steerage of new CEO Alex Cruz has seen consistent cuts to the product, at a time when it needed serious investment. Ticket prices have been constantly higher than competitors, standards slipping, food and beverage being cut back and still no sign of an all-aisle-access product.
So to hear that British Airways recently announced £400m of investment into the product seems like a welcome development. At least on the surface. Details have been revealed of new lounges, Wi-Fi on aircraft and new bedding and linen, and for First Class passengers – “The Wing” which fast-tracks eligible passengers straight to the lounge.
But when you start to strip back the press release terminology, it’s clear to see this is just a case of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and not really offering anything innovative, nor even matching their competition.
Let’s start with the Club World onboard product developments. “In the air from July fresh new linen, bigger pillows designed for sleep comfort, a soft mattress topper and duvet to give customers all they need for a great night’s sleep will be supplied.” This is all good and well, but mattress toppers have been on Virgin for years, and there’s still no sign of pyjamas. The new linen actually is laid on top of the tray, rather than under it. So the idea of a table being laid for you isn’t strictly true. There’s actually less attention to the passenger than previously.
“From September a new restaurant-style premium dining service will begin in Club World, with display trolleys allowing customers to select dishes from a choice of freshly prepared starters and desserts served on beautiful new table settings. A revamped service approach will be delivered to customers with a new culinary boutique experience,” states the press release. Again, even carriers such as Thai, Virgin or Cathay deliver food directly to the passenger in true restaurant style service. The pre-prepared dishes and wines on display remove the requirement for cabin crew to spend as much time tending to the passenger, meaning the crew can be more efficient in service. This is a welcome improvement, however it removes the need for the crew to spend as much attention on each passenger.
There is news that the new Club World seats will enter service in 2019, offering all-aisle-access. This is great news (finally) however, initial renderings seem to mean that a rejig of the Club World Seat is in order, and the airline will still offer the high-density business class seat, rather than the super-business class product that their partner American Airlines now uses across the Atlantic, or one world partner Cathay Pacific.
The airline’s outports are also going to receive some investment. New York’s JFK Terminal 7 will receive over £52m worth of investment over the next two years: a refurbishment of the First and Club World lounges as well as improvements to the customer experience at check in, security and the boarding gates.
However, according to our friends at Australian Business Traveller, Alex Cruz believes passengers will want to enjoy food at the airport lounge prior to boarding, rather than on the flight itself, so is trimming its service to an ‘express’ dining service on their return flights to the UK. Makes sense, except for the fact that this is based on them believing every passenger will enjoy the lounge before flying, and limits the options for those actually wanting to enjoy the dining on board the flight. It also sounds more like a cost-cutting device than responding to customer needs.
On a recent flight with British Airways, we had to wait for 55 minutes to drop off a bag, in Club World, which was extraordinarily long. This was due to only 3 members of staff manning the check-in desks at a peak time (8pm.) British Airways’ new self service bag drops and automated self boarding gates at Heathrow Terminal 5 for domestic flights, might address the issue, but do so with technology rather than dealing with the staffing issue. This will undoubtedly speed up the process of checking in and boarding passengers, but once again limits the interaction between passengers and staff, something that has always been embedded in the airlines’ motto. To Fly. To Serve.
Maybe that is why Alex Cruz is now using a new mantra, “New Thinking, New Flying.” As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, we applaud for investment into the product, but its not given passengers anything equal to what is offer on their rival airlines flying across the Atlantic. Even the likes of Delta and United – many years ago a last resort for flying across ‘The Pond’ – have revealed products with suite-like seats, thick bedding, dine on demand and Wi-Fi as a given.
Perhaps British Airways needs to work out if it wants to become an affordable staple in the passengers decision making process, in which case they should lower their standard fares, or step up to the mark of their more expensive price point and blast their competition out of the water. Being London based, we are desperate to love British Airways, and this is certainly a step in the right direction, but we need to see more steps to address the product offering to truly recapture the hearts of their most lucrative passenger base.