British Airways introducing Buy on Board for long haul flights?

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  • Tom Otley

    That’s the headline in the Sunday Times this morning.

    BA may ditch free meals on the long haul
    The airline that ended complimentary food on short flights in January could extend the move as it fights low-cost carriers

    The airline could start charging long-distance flyers for a menu drawn from the aisles of Mark & Spencer, Alex Cruz, BA’s boss, has revealed.

    I was there that day, and I didn’t hear him say that, and I don’t think it will happen.

    I asked the question about whether the 10-across on the B777s might come to Heathrow (referenced in the piece).

    Cruz said there were no plans to do so, and they’d wait to see what happened when the LGW flights started with this configuration next year.

    As for the food being removed on long haul economy, I don’t think so.


    Morning Tom
    Correct me if I’m wrong,but is not the same tactic BA used pre introduction of the short haul BOB. Leak the potentially damaging negative news through the press.
    Then Waterside sit back and soak up the criticism, whilst maintaining the status quo. And then once the gusts of bluster has blown itself out,trial it on price sensitive routes,and then after consulting the odd menagerie of customer focus groups, launch it fleet wide as an enhancement.
    Plus,the cynical side of me,would suggest that the accounts have been told that the promised enhancements at the pointy end of the aircraft have to be achieved on a cost neutral basis.
    In other words, Y passengers will pay for premium passengers demands.



    I believe it is almost a certainty to happen, the question is when.

    The only thing that might halt it is plunging sales, linked to worsening passenger opinion.

    When you get into a cost cutting model and you have a holding company demanding profit, profit, profit, strategic thinking takes second place to short term target driven behaviours and something that once would have been unthinkable, becomes palatable.

    The fact it damages the brand equity is something to worry about another day and you can always pack an aircraft full of bloggers and journos and talk about jam tomorrow, in the hope it will generate some goodwill.

    Don’t forget that the thin edge of the wedge has already been introduced – economy snack boxes have gone and been replaced by BoB confectionery products for sale in WT.

    Correct me if I’m wrong,but is not the same tactic BA used pre introduction of the short haul BOB. Leak the potentially damaging negative news through the press.

    Canucklad is spot on.


    Does anyone have any knowledge of long haul – on full service airlines – where this BoB has already been introduced?
    I know some US airlines charge for alcoholic beverages on long haul, but for food and snacks? I have not experienced that yet.

    And would this BoB on BA apply to all items: food, drinks and snacks?


    [quote quote=801205]Does anyone have any knowledge of long haul – on full service airlines – where this BoB has already been introduced?
    I know some US airlines charge for alcoholic beverages on long haul, but for food and snacks? I have not experienced that yet.

    And would this BoB on BA apply to all items: food, drinks and snacks?


    I can’t think of one, but given BA comments/actions in respect of Norwegian, it seems to me that they see the ‘full service’ as being in the premium cabins and the economy cabin being unbundled.

    It might work, who knows?

    Be interesting in the case of someone downgraded and finding themselves without a meal.

    If they bring it in, I reckon they might retain a basic F&B offer (maybe a small meal/snack and water/juice), then layer in extras such as an improved meal (which is already offeredin Y for extra cost) and alcoholic drinks.


    Can you imagine the chaos if, as has been discussed previously, the Y catering and F/J are undertaken by different organisations? Luck folk in F/J will get loo roll whilst those further back won’t.


    The story has now appeared in

    I can envisage a separate, downgraded economy class. But only on those somewhat informal but busy routes where travellers would accept more basic travel in return for a lower price.

    In particular I am thinking of transatlantic services. Remember Laker Skytrain (which operated UK-USA) brought in paid-for catering as long ago as 1977. People Express launched BOB (as we know it today) on its LGW-EWR route in the early 1980s. I have sampled both products.

    The Laker Skytrain catering consisted of a simple, charter-quality airline meal. Quite unremarkable.

    But People Express had proper BOB catering which was far tastier than anything Laker (whose Skytrain had ceased by that time) could offer.

    One year ago I wrote about the fact that the three main US carrier were bringing in a Basic Economy class to compete with low fare competitors. It is a separate, few frills economy class product. But it is sold at a cheaper price.

    US airlines poised for economy downgrade

    Basic Economy class is now a reality. It is being offered by American, Delta and United. But so far it is restricted to domestic routes. Catering remains included in the price although, of course, US carriers provide little catering anyway.

    United launched Basic Economy last November. Initially it was offered only on a few routes. But reports from the US say that United will extend this few frills product nationwide plus to the Caribbean and short-haul Latin American destinations.

    Europe’s airlines must be well aware of these developments.

    Both they and their US counterparts must be losing traffic to the growing number of low-cost carriers.

    So what if these three major US carriers were to extend this few frills economy concept to transatlantic routes ?


    Whilst LH BOB may be some way off, I can definitely see ‘free’ alcohol going in WT within 12-18 months.


    If the cost-cutting continues onto long-haul, BAs reputation worldwide will disappear. No longer will the United Kingdom have a British carrier to be vaguely proud of…in fact, its more likely to be an embarrassment to the UK. Or is BA betting on being the leader in reducing costs and service on worldwide airlines.
    Maybe long-haul BOB should be renamed as Sell On Board…SOB!!


    Flew BA to SFO recently (economy) having had a pathetic experience on UA (economy plus) the previous year. The food for a first meal was ok (though much less good than on a European business class flight LHR to ARN) and the crew were more than generous with the wines. Later food was pretty poor and I certainly would not have bought it – a popcorn collection and a later rather awful pizza slice. It looks as if I can only fly Swiss or find an asian carrier if there is one on for the transatlantic economy in future…SAD!


    I can’t see ‘BOB’ being launched in longhaul. Definitely not as a replacement to free food anyway.

    I heard Alex Cruz speak at a staff event and he did talk about the economy class competition. He spoke about the expectations of customers in economy….is the expectation of someone paying £169 for a one way ticket from LGW-FLL the same as the person sat in the same cabin, same seat row who’s paid £1k for the same journey? Probably not. I know the same argument could be used for each class – but in economy it’s particularly evident because of the low level of comfort.

    But ironically it isn’t a lot different when talking about First Class. It isn’t a profitable cabin on most of the routes BA fly. A huge portion of the passengers travelling in that cabin are on Avios redemptions, upgrades, promotions etc, special corporate deals etc. And yet, of course you do get the odd person paying c£9/10K for the product. Many would argue that by actually spending a good deal of money and vastly improving the cabin this would turn it into a profit making unit. The bean counters have done their mathematical models and disagree. So we are basically at a stalemate there.

    BA have quite a bee in their bonnet about Norwegian. Probably more so than EK or EY. Because Norwegian are flying BA’s bread and butter routes across the atlantic and they are essentially competing for the same passengers. Are people that just want the cheapest fare possible to get from A to B loyal to an airline? Maybe some. But many are not. Will the person paying £169 return to BA the following year if they are charging £229 but Norwegian is charging £159? Probably not.

    So how can an airline ‘enhance’ the journey for the person paying £1K to FLL? Offer them free booze and start charging those on lower fares? Enhanced meals? The ability to choose their seat say three days before departure instead of seven if they have no FF status? I think this is the kind of stuff BA are looking at. Please note NONE of these enhancements are ‘official’ or even in the pipeline. It’s just the kind of conversations that are happening at an informal level.

    **Personal opinions only**

    Tom Otley

    Here’s the BA official comment.

    British Airways offers excellent value fares on more than 200 routes worldwide and we continue to attract more and more customers. On long-haul flights, our economy customers receive complimentary catering – a three course meal, bar service and snacks and, on longer transatlantic flights including to the US west coast, an extra meal during the flight.

    Two years ago, we introduced an additional option for pre-paid meals for those economy customers wanting a more varied menu. There are low-cost long-haul airlines around the world that offer buy-on-board catering and customers who value the option of seat-only fares.

    Our parent company, International Airlines Group, has just launched LEVEL, an airline offering customers this kind of choice, and tens of thousands of seat-only fares sold out within 72 hours. Like most companies, we don’t stand still and we are very focused on what customers want. We have no plans currently for a buy-on-board economy product on long-haul, but if that is what interests customers of the future, we will listen. ​​


    KLM offer 5’a la carte’upgraded economy class meals on intercontinental flight ex AMS for €12 or 4200 Flying Blue Miles. You need to book minimum 24 hours before departure. The food looks good in pics ( especially the indonesian one).Seems a good compromise between free food and BOB.


    We have no plans currently for a buy-on-board economy product on long-haul, but if that is what interests customers of the future, we will listen. ​​

    Didn’t they listen to short haul passengers, who asked to be charged for food and drinks?


    Hot off a Qantas flight from Melbourne via Dubai and I come home to read this headline on our national carriers obsession (British Airways) with cost cutting and driving down customer standards.

    It is clear that airlines such as Emirates, Singapore, Qatar and Qantas have, because of intense competition, raised their game. BA are obviously not that bothered (yet) and instead of investing in a new fleet (try flying to US on a 747-400), and working on better services including their lounges, inflight meals and wider choice, they instead are chasing hard to go in the opposite direction. Okay Qantas are not perfect but on the QF10 (LHR -Mel) and QF9 (Mel-LHR) the aircraft was A380. Don’t like the overall business class configuration as you still have to climb over a passenger when not in the aisles. But the choice of food was excellent. The lounges are so much nicer than BA. The Melbourne lounge was really nice. The hook up with Emirates at Dubai has lifted the overall offer. And candidly the in-flight service team was light years ahead of the BA offer.

    I am a BA Emerald customer and having just had such a great trip, I admit I am not looking forward to my next BA flight to JFK. A refitted 15 year old aircraft and a totally demotivated on-board team. BA have stopped listening to customers and are listening to their shareholders. Maybe good in the short term. In the long term its going in only one way. Just to make the point my ticket to Melbourne business cost £1500 less than my average ticket to JFK. A fraction of the distance and in my opinion all because of code-sharing, the most anti-competitive business practice available in the airline industry. BA – now is the time to change; its not too late to save the brand and the business.

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