Video Review: Comparing BA’s new Shorthaul Seats to Norwegian, a Low Cost CarrierBack to Forum
Anonymous9 Oct 2014
BA are rapidly rolling-out a new shorthaul product, with slimline seats, mood lighting and – most controversially – reductions in legroom. BA are normally the our airline of choice due to their 34” seat pitch, but with this being removed & inconvenient flight times we took the opportunity to try a low-cost rival to see how the ‘new BA’ would compare from the perspective of passengers interested in comfort & service.
BA have increased service to Ibiza significantly in recent years – and whilst I won’t bore you by telling you about the days when we had to fly to Majorca to complete immigration before flying on Ibiza – the difference in frequency to just 2010 is a big improvement. There’s service to all 3 major London airports at a variety of flight times, including one in the early hours to cater for the party animals!
We were taking a much more sedate service from the island, leaving at 3pm to fly direct to London Heathrow. There was a good-sized queue to check-in even 60 minutes before departure, but we were able to use the premium desk which took just a few minutes.
Despite all these flights, BA doesn’t provide any lounge access at the airport so we had to reach in to our pocket to get some drinks and a sit down at the ‘lounge club’, located very close to the BA gate.
Onboard, things looked good – the refurbished cabin and new seats were impressive. There were some downsides though – BA have taken out air vents above some of the rows, so we were uncomfortably hot until we took off. Leg room was very poor for anyone used to the 34” BA used to provide at the front of these plans – the seats are now 30” apart, regardless of if you’re in business or economy.
Once we took off, there was an announcement that the bars were nearly empty as “most of the drinks were consumed on the outbound service to Ibiza”. Despite being in the first row and having shiny cards we couldn’t get the drinks of our choice and made do with some wine. The friendly server asked us to complain to BA, and the Purser later also made a cabin-wide announcement asking people to write in to the airline as “BA doesn’t listen to us crew”. Very professional! The crew said BA have squeezed more passengers on to the refurbished planes but haven’t loaded any more drinks – which seems crackers to me.
The flight took off at 3:30pm and landed at 5pm – I would have expected some biscuits or crisps to be served, but everyone was given a chicken flatbread. Frankly, we didn’t want to eat this much between meals and felt that BA’s generosity (as this is no doubt much more expensive than a sweet snack) was misplaced – far better to spend a bit more money on the flights that are in a meal window, and save it on those when people don’t want to eat.
The new cabin was in great condition as you’d expect, but our seat pockets were filled with trash from the previous occupants. Either BA isn’t cleaning / checking its planes down route, or they’re not doing a good job. Not the biggest deal in the world, but something that stuck in my mind as I compared them with Norwegian.
The legroom seemed awful in business, and the fact that your seat is now no wider than economy makes it a tough sell. The middle seat converts in to a table, but I think most people would be much better off buying economy seats and sitting in the exit row (which has the most legroom out of any seats on the plane).
This link takes you to the video review of the flight9 Oct 2014
For the return trip back to the island, we flew with Norwegian from Gatwick as there were no BA flights at a suitable time. Here’s a quick review from the perspective of a regular BA customer:
Like our first flight, there’s no lounge access provided by the airline so we paid to access the No 1 Traveller lounge. Unlike Ibiza’s lounge, there was no DJ area – but there was hot food, and complimentary alcohol. Overall, it was a noticeable step up from BA’s business lounge at Gatwick but not revolutionary.
We boarded on time on to a spotless new plane, that was equipped both with drop-down TVs for entertainment and also with complimentary wi-fi. You could use this to access the internet as normal, or there was a choice of video on demand that you could stream straight to your tablet at no charge.
Being a low cost carrier, there’s no food or drink included in your fare – but there was a wide menu, and everything was in stock. We were able to get some hot food and a drink for under £10 each, which starts to put some value on the worth of the complimentary offer BA provides. It’s certainly a pain to mess around with cash, but the range of food was much larger than you would get even in Club Europe.
Norwegian let themselves down badly by how they treated a woman in the next row; due to a technical problem, Norwegian were only accepting Sterling rather than their normal service which takes Euros and credit cards. The lady asked for a cup of water, but was refused service as she only had a bank card and Euro notes (not unreasonably, being Spanish and flying to Ibiza). She pointed out that she was pregnant, diabetic and Norwegian advertise that they take credit cards on every flight – but the server was unmoved. Even when BA had a buy on board service I can’t imagine any crew member was ever that heartless to a passenger.
The other big difference between flights was the passengers – Norwegian’s passengers were younger, poorer, more excited and much more boisterous than BA’s – this was not a service to take if you wanted to sleep.
This link takes you to the video review of the flight9 Oct 2014
How do the services compare?
Firstly, it’s worth pondering what actually is a low cost carrier in 2014; BA is a ‘full service airline’, but still
– Charges for allocated seats in advance to most people (granted, we were exempt from this)
– Charges for baggage
– Didn’t provide any lounge access
But we did get complimentary food and drinks – unfortunately, many of the drinks had run out and the food wasn’t what we were after. It would have been great to be able to get G&T and some nuts or crisps included in our air fare, but these weren’t able to be provided by BA on our trip.
We did follow the crew nagging & write a letter of complaint, and got a prompt response apologising for the lack of drinks, but no promise of future changes nor compensation.
Comparing air fares is always tough, but this is a reasonable comparison as we booked both flights about a month before the departure date, and travel was within a few days of each other.
Our BA fare was £254 per person, which included a checked bag (and we got free seat reservations due to our shiny cards). Our Norwegian fare was £90 per person, including a checked bag and a seat reservation. We could have paid another £90 and had a spare middle seat (a la Club Europe) but chose not to for this short flight. The fare difference is even more notable as the Norwegian flight included the high UK departure tax, which obviously didn’t need to be paid on our BA flight.
So… for the average punter who doesn’t get free seat reservations, Norwegian should walk this comparison. Unfortunately, due to the poor crew & boisterous passengers onboard we can’t recommend them right now and even though BA dropped the ball with their lack of drinks, they still come out ahead overall.
However – as and when the BA customer demographic realise that they can fly in the same sort of seat in a newer plane with wifi at a lower cost (even when purchasing a smorgasbord of food onboard) then I think it will be a different story – the planes will be quieter & less boisterous, and the crew will be pushed to step up their game. It’ll be interesting to compare in 18 months what the gap is like.
It’s not too late for BA by any means – they just need to up their game slightly and they would be so far ahead of the competition any comparison would be laughable rather than 500 words long. We, and many other customers, have plenty of cash and are happy to spend more – as long as we get good service. Being told that we can’t have a choice of drink, being lectured about the state of industrial relations at BA, being told there’s no snacks on the plane, being told this is ‘business as usual’ so there’s no compensation, and being told that an upgrade to business class might mean a reduction in leg room are all crazy issues to have – and most can be sorted at minimal cost to BA. I hope they up their game soon.9 Oct 2014
Holiday bound flights will always get heavy bar use as people are getting into party mood. Running out means BA save money. I have never been on an EZY flight that ran out of stuff……but then again it is the customer, not the airline who is paying for it.
To Fly. To Save.9 Oct 2014
what was more telling / concerning was the crew saying ‘don’t blame us, write in we always tell them’. what does that say about morale, communication and ownership.
Presumably they were the same crew on the outward flight who gave out all the drink and were not prepared to limit usage on the way out and use the ‘its not us its management’ excuse on the way back. Could you imagine EK staff doing this? They would all be fired on the spot.9 Oct 2014
There were also cash/credit card issues with Norwegian in the early days of its Bangkok-Oslo route.
Initially the carrier refused to accept cash on these flights for any onboard purchases. It would only accept credit cards … forgetting of course that credit cards are not used by as many Thais as they are by Scandinavians.
So some Thai passengers endured the 10 hour flights to Scandinavia without any food or drink.
The last I heard was that Norwegian later backed down and agreed to accept cash payments on its Bangkok flights.9 Oct 2014
Norwegian still only accept cash on some flights, but should on all UK ones.
They advertise that cards are accepted on every flight, hence this lady’s expectation she could get some water onboard. Very poor show.9 Oct 2014
I’ve now found the link the stort re Norwegian and cash payments on the Bangkok route dating back to June, 2013.
In one case, a Norwegian crew member took back a cup of coffee from a Thai woman when she was unable to use her local (Thai) credit card on the airline’s card machine.
Even though she had cash to pay for the cup of coffee, the airline wouldn’t accept it. Why ? Because, at that time on that route, Norwegian would not accept cash payments for onboard services etc.9 Oct 2014
Very interesting report…I am/will post a flight report on BA Faro/LGW new biz seat tomorrow, but in passing. Full flight and they also said they were running short on meals and drinks in Club. Is this a new cut back I wonder? Evening flight so most people will drink over the 2.30 mins flight!9 Oct 2014
The provision of free water to passengers on aircraft should be mandatory. Fair enough to charge for sparkling, flavored etc. but not for a simple glass of still. Further to deny it to someone who needs it just because they don’t have the right means of payment is just so wrong.
Shame on Norwegian!9 Oct 2014
+1 LuganoPirate, in fact I may go further and say doing so on a flight where dehydration is a known consequence of being on board, and the fact the lady was pregnant it was downright dangerous.9 Oct 2014