It’s been tough to be a British Airways customer over the past few years, and things are about to get much tougher in the face of uncertainties surrounding Brexit and competition from low cost transatlantic carriers like Wow Air and especially Norwegian.
And they’re going to mash together all the different Avios programs into one. They haven’t told us what that will look like, but British Airways makes it look like the independent and more valuable ones moving to the less valuable shared program. We’ll have to wait and see.
British Airways arguably has the worst lie flat business class seat in the industry at 8-abreast on their Boeing 777s.
Their intra-European business class has less legroom at 30 inches of pitch than the median domestic US airline coach seat.
They’re reportedly testing mandatory self-checkin at Heathrow’s terminal 3 (with a charge to see an agent).
And British Airways had basic economy fares before they were cool in the US, with hand baggage only fares that require even elites to pay for checked bags. There’s been talk about taking away lounge access and priority boarding from elites on these fares as well.
There have, of course, been catering cuts as well.
They’ve announced significant expansion in part to match Norwegian routes. When British Airways announced new service from London Gatwick to New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, and Oakland in recent days with Boeing 777-200 aircraft featuring 40 business class seats that was apparently only temporarily accurate at best, because British Airways has now announced those planes will be reduced to 32 business class seats while doubling premium economy from 24 to 48 seats and increasing British Airways
Cargo economy from 280 to 332 seats.
If you don’t think their goal is to go head-to-head with Norwegian by cutting costs, it’s right there in the British Airways deck:
(Red emphasis mine.)
They get a portion of that increase in economy seating by going 10-abreast on 25 Boeing 777s, suggestive that this won’t be limited to Gatwick leisure routes. Of course this matches the direction much of the industry is going with narrower coach seats — such as American, United, Emirates, and Air France.
As Runway Girl‘s John Walton observes,
“Gatwick’s new B777 configuration will give a lower cost/e-seat than Norwegian B787” says the slide header, which rather gives away the competition that has BA worried. Without a hard product advantage over the longhaul LCC, and with continual cuts to soft product (even after ad campaigns focussing on it as a point of difference), together with ongoing frequent flyer scheme devaluations, it’s unclear what reasons British Airways has for imagining passengers will wish to book its more expensive fares. Fool me once, passengers may think, shame on you; fool me twice, I’ll book with another airline.
And in fact Norwegian will be offering a similar long haul product with newer Boeing 787 aircraft.
Furthermore, British Airways will be adding seats to their short haul narrowbodies:
- Increasing domestic Airbus A320s from 168 or 171 to 180 seats
- Increasing domestic Airbus A321s to 218 seats (domestic UK A321s currently have 205 seats in an all-coach configuration
BA’s response to Norwegian and projected reductions in premium demand has been to cut costs. They retain the lion’s share of the potentially shrinking Heathrow market, and their view has been to send connections increasingly through other gateways besides Heathrow (hence the Aer Lingus acquisition).
Fuel surcharges on awards notwithstanding, they’re increasingly giving customers a reason to avoid Heathrow connections and their uncompetitive product will give customers a reason to fly other airlines to and from London as well. Goodness knows BA’s Executive Club offers little reason to remain a loyal flyer. I’ve argued that for anyone earning up to Gold status, crediting to another program can be advantageous even for someone flying predominantly on BA.