British Airways Looks to Reduce First Class Seats (and Not Improve Them)

British Airways doesn’t have a competitive business class product. On their Boeing 777s seating is eight across, middle seats are especially intimate and passengers in the window climb over the feet of their seat opponents.

BA business lags United, Delta, and American. It lags Lufthansa, and it’s way behind Air France 777s (although it beats Air France A380s).

British Airways Business Class

British Airways Business Class

So far they’ve focused on very slowly rolling out improvements to food and to bedding, but they still don’t have a new seat. In a new interview British Airways CEO Alex Cruz acknowldeges that a new business class seat needs to take up more space than the current one. Otherwise what’s the point?

British Airways Business Class

That space needs to come from somewhere — he says it likely comes from the first class cabin.

John asked Alex how they will improve the Club World seats but still keep the volume of seats to keep prices the same. This was the most interesting part of the interview for me. Alex hinted that they would not be keeping the same layout as now by mentioning about the excess of First capacity that exists on many routes. Perhaps they will reduce down to 8 seats as they have on the B787 instead of the current 12-14 on the rest of the fleet?

British Airways has a dense first class cabin, too. It’s not that first class takes up too much space, rather than they squeeze in many seats into first.

British Airways First Class

Airlines broadly have cut back their international first class cabins. However if a customer is going to buy first on a route with competition, British Airways almost certainly doesn’t have the better product. I’d choose American Airlines first (if only for the assurance of wifi) or Air China first over BA first.

BA’s first class seats are stylish, I’ve always liked the lamps at each seat, but United now even offers that with their new Polaris business class seat.

So British Airways probably does have too many first class seats. They can keep the same basic concept and reduce the number, reallocating space to another class of service, or keep the same amount of space and reduce the number in order to offer a more premium product.

It should come as no surprise that the former CEO of low cost carrier Vueling, working under the direction of IAG CEO Willie Walsh, would be thinking about the former.

To be sure, Cruz also recognizes that if they improve business class that they either need to ditch first class or improve it since there wouldn’t otherwise be much of a distinction. So there “are already rumours circulating of a new ultra-premium First in the future from BA.”

But if they reduce first class seats to make room for business class seats that doesn’t leave the footprint on the aircraft for “a new ultra-premium First.” It merely leaves room for something that BA would call an ultra-premium First.

The crazy thing of course is that despite an inferior product across the board, award redemptions on British Airways are substantially more expensive than on competitors too because of fuel surcharges — even though they frequently sell seats in their forward cabins for less cash.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For a long time, the old FT joke was that the best business class in the market was first class on United. Sadly, that torch was passed to BA a few years ago (and now, BA F has even been surpassed by some J products).

  2. I’ll say it again … my sources say that BA is reducing service and quality in First with view to removing it eventually …it’s no better than AA Business and with the focus on how to get their dense Club Workd cabin up to level of comfort of competitors they’re going to abandon First en route to that goal. Thieving BAstards.

  3. I would say after a few flights this past year both in F and Biz as horrible as the food and service in First Class they should remove and make a BETTER biz experience frankly I don’t think anyone will miss first on BA. Certainly the FA’s that most of the time are just showing up and faking real service.

    Their biz as you said is a joke having to crawl over another passenger. When my wife is traveling with me we now get two isles across from each other. Sanity rules

  4. British Airways biz class ground service is also of LCC standard, with paid seat-assignments and spiteful treatment of latecomers who are told to buy a new ticket if they miss the 35m deadline passing security.

  5. The simple reason BA first has spare capacity is simply because the BA first class experience isn’t.

  6. I’ve never flown BA in a premium cabin. The AARP discount has been tempting but not enough to overcome the lousy product and service and the hassles of LHR.

    Given the general reduction in first-class capacity worldwide, apparently due to the relative unprofitability of first class, American Airlines decision to make this product even more costly, i. e. less profitable, through the First Class Dining program in Flagship lounges is a mystery. Unless AA makes up for these extra costs some other way, FCD might be just another nail in the first class coffin. Delta has no first class and is more profitable. And AA is fond of DWDD (do what delta does) as a rule of thumb for management decisions.

  7. Oh, man, bc, u know, now that there’s no more space available (for now) to demand of economy flyers to sacrifice and give up, I’m so feeling the pain for 1st class flyers who now find themselves facing the dread of a “shared sacrifice” towards making flying even better for those poor, already cosseted, Goldilocks dears in biz class who just have to have everything “just right” when they fly!

    …lie flat seats that are just right…guaranteed, just right all aisle access for everyone…ginormous TV screens (bigger than most desktop/notebook computer monitors) just right for being entertained as if at home when they fly…much larger than “just right” sized loos (that are 2x-3x larger than micro-loos behind the curtain)…

    oh, that’s right…silly me…not even all that “just right” is just right anymore…these Goldilocks *must have* private, enclosed suites, for things to be “just right” now!


    Too bad it’s only a matter of time before all this “just right” isn’t good enough to be just right anymore. I guess that’s when the vise will be twisted and turned several rotations again at the back of the already over crowded, overly “densified” economy sections of the plane to find space for future attempts to please the impossible to please Goldilocks folk in biz class!

    But for this round of sacrificing, and until the next rounds looming just over the horizon, what a nice, refreshing change it is to see that the pain is being spread around and the sacrificing is coming from the pointy end of the plane instead of on the backs, legs and bums of the unwashed masses stuck in back who have otherwise been doing all of the “sacrificing” until now!!!

    No 1st class. Boo-hoo! Talk about a first world “problem”…hehehe 😉

    All of the above said with tongue firmly in cheek!

    But now being more serious on the subject, perhaps BA, like other airlines seeking to offer 4-classes of products, would be well advised take a closer look at the configuration unveiled yesterday for ANA’s three Airbus A380s, or if that’s too big of a bird at 520 seats, another plane far better suited for offering a wide range of product segmentation, Her Majesty the Queen (747) – both of which it already has, or of course, could buy factory new from either OEM and then trick out with super luxe 1st class; an exceptionally nice biz class for the Goldilocks crowd that must have *everything* just right all the time; a premium economy cabin offering little taste of the good life that the Goldilocks crowd with their expense/bank accounts have, but they don’t; oh, and yeah, an economy section with 34” pitch rows for long hauls as we should have for flights longer than 2-3 hours (tops).

    I really don’t have a problem with premium class travel. Nor do I really begrudge those who desire to travel in style – despite how it otherwise may appear when I talk smack about them!

    I do that bc their expectations and demands first for fully lie flat seats, followed by all aisle access for everyone already being cosseted, and as if that’s already not “just right”, are now demanding luxurious private suites which partly account for the preposterous densifications aboard planes like the 777 and 787 that are about as suited for what’s being asked of them to do, as it is for adults to use the desks and chairs their children use in pre-K classrooms.

    Or, if one prefers, to expect one to wear shoes and clothes a few sizes smaller than they can fit it without it being not just an unreasonable “ask”, but a preposterous one, too.

    And maybe I’m crazy, but would we subject ourselves to the type of discomfort of walking around in shoes too small for our feet, wearing clothes that are too small to fit into?

    Of course, not!

    And yet, when it comes to airlines, of late, that’s *exactly* what’s being demanded of us since, after all, space to satisfy the ever expanding (literally and figuratively) demands and expectations for space in biz class cabins had ti come from somewhere, which nearly always came at the expense of coach/economy cabin configurations and the 85% of passengers who’ve been demanded:

    1.) To squeeze into too small seats most of us cannot fit into;

    2.) To cram into rows that most average sized adults, nevermind people who are taller, cannot fit their legs into without pressing flush against the seat in front of them;

    3.) Or prehaps the most ridiculous “ask” of all that should more than make clear how preposterous the situation has become, squeezing into micro-bathrooms so small most of us must stand/sit sideways to pee and poop.

    …as the price/“sacrifices” to allow for luxe biz class cabins aboard single decked wide-bodies (and especially Boeing’s despicable when densified beasts, 777/787s).

    If this alone doesn’t illustrate just how out-of-whack things have become, as I’d like to think it should, then how about reports about lavs being so small passengers have to back into them just to get in, or worse, are wedged in so tight, they became stuck inside?

    I mean c’mon…seriously…would anyone wear shoes or clothes so small they cannot even squeeze into, and then, even if we had no choice but to squeeze into those clothes, then got stuck inside anyway?

    Or after walking across the room, couldn’t wear their too small shoes?

    And yet, that’s exactly what our airlines are asking of most of us.

    Maybe that’s where I’ve been wrong – blaming those who are blessed with the means to afford traveling in style instead of holding the decision makers who allow these despicable, densified configurations accountable.

    It’s one thing to fly a short hop of 1-3 hours in discomfort. And quite another to be expected to literally fly to the other side of the world in the type of configuration that’s possibly reasonable and acceptable for a short haul flight but absolutely defies common sense and decency for a long haul one.

    Or I guess one could say, doing the airlines’ dirty work of shifting blame to passengers – but only in **reverse** instead of how the privileged ones do when they fall for the myth propagated by some airline mangements and favored by Wall Street analysts that economy passengers have only themselves to blame for being cheapskates deserving of the miseries they brought on themselves that “forces” airlines to shrink seats, rows and bathrooms as preposterously as they have.

    Fact is, and again, as ANA’s just revealed 520 seat Airbus A380s proves: there really is room for everyone to fly comfortably.

    And it’s our lyin’ airlines who really are the cheapskates by not buying airplanes suitable for offering the type of “segmentation” they say they’re trying to do, which probably is the new code-word for “densification” and “capacity discipline” now that the word is out that the former is a nebulous term for screwing passengers, and the latter just may turn out to have been the very “winking & nodding” done as an effort to evade having an actionable “paper trail” and/or recordings that would make proving collusion in terms of price and product “fixing”.

    In any event, since “segmentation” seems to be all the rage now instead of those other two “code words” which time has now revealed as likely being the fig leaves used to simply (what else?) screw passengers because they all know they needed to find a way to disguise their efforts to fly under radar with words like “densification” and “capacity discipline” as a cover for doing all sorts of despicable and shameful things like cramming too many (small) seats aboard planes that clearly are ill-suited for what’s being demanded of them as a means of tipping the balance of “pricing power” in their favor instead of in the hands of comsumers who would have that in properly functioning, competitive markets.

    So, yeah, good riddance to BA’s and others’ 1st class if that’s the only way to create the type of biz class product the market now wants/expects.

    Fact is, if we’re being honest most single decked wide-bodies (forget the insanity of narrow-bodies) are ill suited for the absurd configurations seen on “densified” 777s and 787s.

    All one has to do is ask themself if they do whatever they can to AVOID being stuck on any overly densified plane, but especially those two atrocious beasts from Boeing where flyers are being “asked” to pay to subject themselves to a degree of discomfort for half a day (or more)?

    Or of course, if they’ve ever seen ANY of the CEOs who signed off on these despicable, preposterous and ultimately, shameful configurations they claim are perfectly fine!

    Let’s face it, if one does not want to fly on these planes, and typically seeks to avoid them as much as possible (as it would appear from comments here, elsewhere, and virtually everywhere), or more importantly, nary a CEO has ever been seen flying (that’s Dougie, Oscar, Scotty K, Ed and you, too, Alex) in the densified…er back portion of the “segmented” cabins, then clearly, something’s wrong.

    It’s not a matter of my personal opinion.

    It’s just plain old common sense!

    And fwiw, I don’t hate Boeing. 9-abreast coach/economy sections on 777s with 33-34” row pitch are awesome airplanes!

    But I’ve been on ghastly 9-abreast 787s, and the economy sections on those are **not** comfortable for more than a few hours, let alone five, eight, ten, 15 hours that they typically are flown.

    They’re not. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.

    And that’s why I “rant” about that.

    There are airplanes out there that can offer something for most budgets.

    It’s time the fibbers who insist otherwise stopped fibbing, take a good, close look at ANA’s new Airbus A380s, and got busy configuring planes with seats that even the worst of which is something they, too, find acceptable and decent enough for themselves and their families to be seen aboard flying.

    These jackholes have no right to take money from flyers for products that even when free is something that’s still not good enough for them to fly.

    And flyers must stop allowing ourselves to be blamed by those who deliberately engineer, and profit from, the miseries they created includimg using too small airplanes to meet the diverse needs of the flyers they’re otherwise all too happy to take money from.

    Just as the 747 did originally, or as ANA’s new A380s will do in the future when they enter service, there’s no reason why most of us can’t fly with a degree of dignity and respect that is desperately missing from a great many apsects of our civic life – and especially aboard the atrociously overcrowded planes we’re told is all we deserve to fly.

    Goodbye BA 1st, and R.I.P. – it’s about time the pointy end of the plane shared the pain of making biz class flying perfect for those who, like Goldilocks, must have everything…just right!

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