rferguson, as always an insightful and interesting post. I would like to add something to one of your comments, though:
“But for all of those who question why BA didn’t come up with a new product in J or F for the A380/787 there is a very simple answer. Because the current one works. It remains popular. And with BA linking the financial centre of London to other major centres of the world they have no problem filling the seats at a decent yield. And by sticking with the same seat and the same configuration they can get more seats into the same area. Simple.”
I do see the validity of this comment, and that because of the revenue-sharing arrangement with AA, they need not hold much fear of AA sucking revenue away with their much-improved J class offering on their key transatlantic routes. At the moment, then, BA’s position may be relatively secure in relation to J-class revenue. However, it is quite clear that competition on the seat front is hotting up. More and more airlines are introducing newer and (from the passenger perspective) better seats. Just as BA innovated and started the trend towards the flat-bed J class seat, so more and more airlines have followed suit (and now taken a lead), and I think it is fair to say that now, while we are not yet quite in a position where people “expect” a flat bed seat in long-haul J, that day is not far off. And once flat beds become the norm, so that BA’s former advantage in that area is gone, how will BA continue to compete?
Given that BA are painfully slow in updating their seats generally, and even slower at rolling them out (more than three years after New First was announced and it still isn’t finished – contrast CX who announced new business class a year later and who have completed the retrofit already), most of the initial comments on this board about the A380 and B787 were expressing disappointment not just at the fact that no new seat had been rolled out, but also that the logical conclusion is that the existing seats will be with us for (I am guessing here, I confess) at least five years and quite possibly the next decade. While this can only be a matter of conjecture and opinion, it is my view that by that time the limitations of the seat will be seen as a significant drawback when compared with competitors who have continued to innovate – an idea that BA seems to have rather given up on. And I for one, as a patriotic Brit* (albeit an emigrant!) think that is a shame, not least because I think it will hurt BA in the long run. BA seem to me (and I am happy to bow to the greater knowledge of other contributors if I am wrong, but would welcome any comment) to be losing out on market share for Asia due to competition from Gulf and Asian carriers, they are losing market share on the Kangaroo route (particularly with the QF/Emirates tie-up), they are losing market share for long-haul traffic from the UK regions because connections are more convenient from Gulf carriers or through AMS… Although at the moment they are holding their own, I truly wonder how long the current model is sustainable. And, as we all know, faced with those sorts of pressures a failure to innovate is a recipe for failure. What is the answer? To go downmarket (to chase volume), to go upmarket (to boost prices), or to go “boutique” and offer something different (a USP). Which of these is BA doing? As I see it (again only my own personal observations), a little bit of the first (hand-luggage only fares, for example), not much of the second, and not much of the third (although I would note here the relentless flood of e-mails I receive for each BA flight urging me to buy hotel rooms, rent cars, buy extra luggage, upgrade classes – they certainly are innovating by trying to gouge passengers for money at every opportunity while still maintaining the facade of being an “all-inclusive” carrier)
Finally, to your last point – I recently had occasion on a different thread to look at the seat maps for BA’s and CX’s 744s. CX only have the old “coffin class” seating on their 744s (because they are going to be retired, so they will not be retrofitted). Since I believe the 744s have the same upper deck size it is one of the few places one can draw a direct comparison between airlines and seat density. And guess what? BA’s yin-yang – 20 seats. CX’s old coffin class? 22…. Interesting.,. Not terribly relevant, though, I grant you, since that is CX’s old offering, and it is abundantly clear that their new offering takes up a much larger footprint than BA’s, but I think it does demonstrate that although the yin-yang configuration seems space-efficient, and it certainly minimises the personal space every passenger receives, it isn’t necessarily that efficient overall!
* EDITED TO ADD Further to the post above about affiliations, I am not employed in the travel industry, nor do I have any financial stake in any travel company (save in the form of unused tickets and air miles,which I suppose do represent an indirect financial interest!).