British Airways today promoted its £400 million investment by organising a day visiting its new lounges at Gatwick, showcasing its new onboard Club World and First improvements, and finishing at the new First Class Wing at Heathrow.
The new lounges opened in Gatwick in January:
First look: British Airways Gatwick Club lounge
First look: British Airways Gatwick First lounge
The First Class wing is subject to a separate article to be published tomorrow.
Here is a video of the approach to the lounge along the corridor leading from security into the lounge.
Speaking with Business Traveller at the event (and the day after his one-year anniversary as chairman and CEO of British Airways), Alex Cruz said that his intention was to showcase the investment that was taking place at the airline after the negative headlines of his first 12 months in charge.
The controversy around removing free food on board short-haul flights, increasing the number of seats on board both the short-haul and long-haul fleet, and the changes to long-haul catering were all addressed by Cruz during an extensive question and answer on board a specially chartered B787-9 aircraft, which took a circuitous route between London Gatwick and London Heathrow.
Cruz said he believed that many other airlines would adopt the Buy on Board model that British Airways has introduced, and that customer approval was rising, and would continue to rise, as problems with the service, stock and technology around payments were solved.
In addition, Cruz said that the ten-across seating that is being introduced on the B777 fleet from London Gatwick was the same as most other airlines were also introducing. He said there were no plans to introduce the ten-across seating in economy on the Heathrow fleet, but after the first Gatwick aircraft was introduced in January 2018 it would be monitored.
He said that a wet-leased B777 at Gatwick in a three-class configuration was a “devastatingly effective weapon” against its competitors at Gatwick.
As far as increased density on short-haul, again Cruz pointed out that existing airlines such as those in the Lufthansa Group (including Austrian and Swiss) had already done this, and Easyjet was actually in the process of further increasing the seating on board.
I asked Cruz whether he was concerned that the negative headlines ran the risk of creating a situation where the perception became the reality. Cruz said that he believed that as passengers encountered the airline and the changes, the perception would become a more positive one.
He said he was aware of the headlines not only because he read them like everyone else, but he felt very positive about the direction the airline was taking.
A selection of starters – note that these would not be served three to a plate but were served this way for demonstration
- Loch Fyne smoked salmon tartare with wasabi creme fraiche
- Burrata with tomato carpaccio and an olive oil and balsamic dressing
- Jamon Iberico, asparagus and manchengo
Speaking on board the B787-9 aircraft, Cruz addressed the following:
New Club World seat
“We have made a decision to move away from the Club World seats. The time has come to change and the decision has been made. It’s going to take a little time, and we’re not going to oversell and we will tell you as we make our decisions, but it will have full-aisle, all-aisle access for all passengers so people will no longer have to have long legs to step over a passenger when they want to get to the aisle. We will take some time to come back with all the details of how we will do that.”
Club World changes
“We have committed to spend £400 million around the Club experience. We are going to change the overall quality and food and drink on board. We believe we can make a step change not only in the quality but in how it is presented.
“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from our customers about sleeping, and that’s something we can address immediately. We will change the service routine to maximise the number of sleep hours, particularly from the East Coast of the United States. So we want to make sure we have the longest period of quiet time. We are trying to get a minimum of five hours’ of rest on a typical flight time from New York and a dark, quiet cabin.
“We are committed to new soft products – blankets, duvets, eye shades, ear plugs to create a completely different cabin ambience and this is the first phase – bigger, larger, better-presented catering and a better cabin ambience with the emphasis on sleep.
In terms of the roll-out, Cruz said that the new linens would be “from August and the new catering before that”.
“In September we will roll out the restaurant-style dining experience. We are going to introduce this first on Heathrow and New York and then roll it out across the rest of the Club World seats across the network. We will move away from large trays [instead bringing] the food around on trolleys so you can be served in a different way.”
The new “restaurant-style” display trolley service in Club World. This is for starters and desserts. Main courses are brought our to order.
Nor surprisingly, Cruz confirmed that on both the wide-body and narrow-body fleet, some 90 per cent of planes would be fitted with wifi by 2019. One aircraft is currently fitted and being tested, and the results have been positive.
“We have one fitted now and we are testing it and multiple people are able to stream Netflix at the same time. We believe we will be the first to be able to do this across the Atlantic. Short -aul installations start just before the summer – they are two different technologies. Long-haul is satellite and short-haul is via ground but both are very fast.”
There will be two options for connectivity – Simply Connect or Connect Plus, which refers to basic email and browsing and faster streaming. Prices will start from £4.99 for one hour with Simply Connect, while Connect Plus will start at £7.99 per hour. Four-hour and full-flight packages will also be available.
Cruz admitted that BA has no idea how the pricing model will work, but the airline had spoken with partners in IAG and in the US “and this is what we are starting with”.
The new tableware in Club World
Buy on Board (BOB)
Cruz admitted that Buy on Board (BOB) had “a rough start” but maintained that through major surveys and statistical analysis the airline is seeing approval improving.
“We have been measuring it, we’ve done four major surveys, we met all flights two weeks ago, and the data coming back from the crew, some of it incidental, some of it very statistical, means we can tell how it is going.
“We have very few destinations where we are still working out where we should we be adding extra stock. We have added extra trolleys as well. Considering it has only been running 12 weeks we have made many changes and will continue to do so. There is a new menu which has gone live, and it will change again, I’m sure.
“There are some items that people buy, some they don’t buy at all. For instance, we have found that when you’ve been skiing you are very hungry, so we have to put a lot of bacon sandwiches on the Geneva route. But once we are stable we need to innovate – so we will look at credit cards issued in other countries and the price of the products at the end of the day, and we could look at specific menus for specific destinations.
“What I’d emphasise is we have three differentiating points: one is the major brand affiliation; two is the fact you can pay with Avios and three it is contactless – which took extra time to get running but is now working.
“We met our targets on the first day and the first week and since then sales have increased significantly. People are buying more. We are releasing traffic stats today and you will see an increase, it is almost as though they are flying with us because of BOB.
Will you roll back BOB to some extent and offer free water?
“No. Our market for BOB is domestic Europe. If you plot the number of seats that offer some kind of free food you will see a huge decline. There are very few seats that give you something to eat and something to drink.
“As for the perception of us in the market, we are a premium airline and we offer a premium service for those who have paid for it. But if you have paid £29 for a single to Rome, you expect a lot from BA and we give you a lot, but not free food and drink. I know there is a change. People email me and say “How could you start charging for seats?” Well I didn’t. It happened five years ago.”
What about offering top tier flyers something?
“It’s something we will look at. Everyone expects us to get it right on week one but we will continue to refine it and for the top tier flyers it is something we are looking at.”