How British Airways Could Turn into Spirit Airlines and How One State Will Undermine Uber

News and notes from around the interweb:

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Self-checkin is fine with me. The less interaction with airline staff the better. My idea of a good trip is one in which the only airline staff member I interact with is the FA and the person checking me into the lounge.

  2. Gary, can I ask you for a favor?

    Few times I used website to find availability on Russian S7/Sibir airlines. I was able to book some of the flights using avios and AA miles as late as few months ago.

    Now, whenever I’m entering a destination served by this Russian airline, it always comes back as an message “British and its partners don’t fly this route”. I tried calling their service center and the agent couldn’t find any availability on any routes either. Is there a way for you to reach out to BA and ask about this? I really would love to have it sorted out since S7/Sibir is the best way to travel in Eastern Russia now.

    Hope you can help!

  3. You [used to at least] can get tickets for avios. PEK-UUD was 7.5K avios vs. official price $250.

  4. Gary, STOP with the click bait. BA turning in to NK? Are you off your rocker? You’ve never worked for an airline or in this industry, you have ZERO idea what you are talking about! You have a virtual megaphone and the public comes on here and reads your content when you are often wrong, blow things out of proportion, and take things way out of context. Fortunately several of the respectable though leaders who publish for the industry have addressed some of your points recently with sound facts and their first hand experience and expertise in the field.

  5. To say one small pilot test is turning an established, flagship, global icon of a carrier serving 160+ global cities on hundreds of aircraft means they are becoming more like a ULCC is outrageous. Many industries charge for services that were once free that can now be conducted over self-service means. Banks, fuel stations, standardized test agencies, broker facilitated trades, etc. Get real. At least one carrier even charges their own employees to create non-rev listings by phone that could otherwise be completed through the online portal or airport kiosks.

  6. The fewer people I can deal with the better. Security contractors, government officials, airline employees etc.

  7. @Josh G – if you want to actually dispute something that I write, offer an argument not ad hominem and even better don’t reference vague ‘others’ but let’s get specific. This isn’t the only change British Airways is making (I’ve mentioned recently catering in economy and business for instance), both under ex-Vueling CEO Alex Cruz and in the face of Brexit. And it continues a path that was paved before both, eg HBO fares.

    And in any case you continue to repeat that I haven’t worked for an airline as though that’s a requirement to speak about all and every topic. There are some topics I don’t cover where I don’t feel I have anything useful to contribute. I’ve worked with plenty of companies in the travel space. But not being trapped inside the mindset of an airline, doing what’s always been done, can be a great advantage. My industry friends tell me when they think I’m off base with something. We discuss and debate it. Sometimes I change their mind, sometimes they change mine, but there’s great dialogue and I learn from it — and fuse that insight with general finance, business, marketing knowledge and off that perspective. What do you offer?

  8. I agree with Josh G. Actually most bloggers aren’t qualified to talk about half the stuff they write about – all they understand is credit card churn or loyalty programs. They are really good at that – but look extremely foolish when they talk about operations and the like. Gary is bad – some of the other ones are even worse. I have worked in the industry 20+ years and find a lot of this content amusing actually and read it for fun. Of course the incessant credit card pushes get annoying – as does the ripping of content from each other (bloggers that is)

    The problem here is unlike some bloggers they don’t make it sound like their opinion, like any Joe might – but actually act like a fact.

  9. Gary,
    If you were half as in tune with our industry as you like to suggest I wouldn’t need to name publications or individuals. But Cranky/Brett Snyder (who has worked in the industry for several carriers and is both knowledgeable, well respected, and well liked) directly took aim at the DL gate counter at the QR departure gate. Go on and on to your hearts content about the intricacies of credit cards, which flavor of ice cream sundae is served on which route, but leave the commercial/strategic/business/operations/labor relations topics those qualified to speak on them. Many of your “foregone” conclusions haven’t exactly panned out, and I too am amused by your posts where you act like some informed insider at a certain carrier and career trajectories of different people. With all due respect, certain posters on, US Aviation and others know more about this stuff than you (that’s not even saying much). You have a virtual megaphone and with changes to affiliation marketing you are increasingly posting clickbait and misinformed nonsense. You lose credibility, before you started posting this stuff I thought you were level headed and respected and admired how made your hobby/passion into a small business enterprise that reaches millions globally. For the life of me I can’t understand how or why you keep posting about old TW machinists contracts particularly about UAs widebody deployments, and other labor relations topic that aren’t of interest to your readership at large.

  10. @Josh G — Cranky made the point that airlines have watched loads on each other’s flights for a long time. I argued that (1) it’s unnecessary work since Qatar flight loads are filed with DOT, and (2) in the context of Delta’s bullying, pulling business and sponsorships out of spite, it becomes heavy handed. So while Cranky’s statement wasn’t wrong, I don’t think it was persuasive.

    Regardless, all I’m saying is disagree with me all you want but when you do bring facts not insinuation, and not ad hominem which is all you’ve seemed to have. Most of your criticisms have been wrong, straw men, or simply off-topic like you see one sentence in a post and make assumptions about what I’m saying without actually reading it. Which makes it completely unproductive to engage.

  11. It’s not just Brett, there are others that charge for their distribution and are copyrighted.

    Ok, what “fact” should I bring other than to say this is an age old industry practice, still going on to this day? If you ever worked in network planning, an operational performance group, or even as a passenger service agent at certain stations over the years you’d know that. Diio and data from the GDS have a lag and is no substitute to collecting quality timely data. Management regularly fly on OALs and take copious notes of processes, procedures, and other operational aspects as well (but in a very discrete and purposeful manner).

    What “fact” should I show for your misinformation about the TW IAM agreements and restrictions placed upon them [and how they relate to UA AFA-CWA agreement and its application 15 years later]? Not sure why you are so obsessed with them and defend Carl’s acts to a T, but your “analysis” there and about AAs operations at STL is also way out of line. You are clueless about the RLA and different carrier CBAs. You said you read the entire UA CBA when you likely only read a highlight sheet (since the full CBA was not yet released behind password protected AFA-CWA site) outlining the base rates and an overview of the other articles.

    You do what you want-it’s your blog, I’m just telling you that myself and others are taking notice and IMO you lose credibility trying come across as this know all expert who is merely an observer/passenger armed with a virtual megaphone. Say what you want about industry experience, but many credible people are raising questions about the recent UA appointments-which is now two outsiders in highly visible operational focused role who have exposure to the industry in professional capacities but haven’t actually worked in it. If my critiques are all weak strawman attacks why do you get so defensive?

  12. Josh, you’re the one obsessed with TWA, but the Kansas City maintenance base kept open those 747 hangers long past when the airline operated 747s.

    Not sure what in the world the United CFO and Chief Revenue Officer roles have to do with my blog, I haven’t written about those. They raise interesting questions but I don’t have a judgment on them, sorry.

    Just yesterday you threw out criticisms that were bogus, e.g. that I hadn’t read a program’s terms and conditions ( I demonstrated your claims are false, you ignore and make different claims. And you call me defensive. Have a great night, sir!

  13. Gary, your headline is certainly clickbait. The only part you left off was the usual preface about “You won’t believe” before “how BA could turn into Spirit.” “BA to test new fee” would at least be factual and would be a reasonable headline but that was not the path you chose. The fact that, despite the ad hominem, you barely address the charge against you, that the headline is clickbait in nature, leaves me to believe that you do not actually disagree that it is clickbait. There’s no solicitation for to improve it or any acknowledgement that the headline could be construed as clickbait. Instead, you give lip service to the changes BA is making (and do not provide a clear logic of how those changes bring BA closer to Spirit). You’re point of contention with previous posters was a lack of facts and argumentation so here is something in that vein.

    BA and Spirit exist on opposite ends of the airline spectrum. For BA to credibly be on the path to turning into Spirit, they would have to undertake a massive set of reforms starting (at the very least) with removing First and Business and eliminating meal service. They’d have to undertake so many additional reforms that the probability of BA turning into Spirit are infinitesimally small. A test of charging for a service does little to move BA away from their end of the airline spectrum (of a full-service, high-business, flag carrier) to the ULCC side. I don’t think pointing to the change in meal service is a point in your favor. The fact is, despite the downgrade to 1.5 meals, the airline is still offering food included in the price of the ticket. That’s not, in the usual phrase, nickel and diming the consumer like ULCC carrier Spirit is typically characterized to do.

    Taking on one characteristic of another does not turn the one into the other. If I put a leather seat in my Corolla I couldn’t credibly say that my car was turning into a Mercedes-Benz (but it has at least one leather seat like the Mercedes!). Despite that one commonality, and even if I brought in more Mercedes-type features, at the end of the day, my Corolla will still be a Toyota. That’s the same situation here. Adopting a fee for one service doesn’t bring BA any closer to Spirit.

    Your propensity towards clickbait is problematic but especially alarming when, a few months back, you used a picture of ISIS in your discussion of airlines in the Middle East. You defended it through some sophistry about how ISIS and the ME are connected but there was no real nexus between the two. You demand facts from readers now but you were similarly scarce of facts in trying to provide a link between ISIS and carriers in the middle east. And I bet some of your recalcitrance stems from the fact that if you continue with your line of argumentation that readers will come back, giving you more page views for your financial benefit, to comment further about the problems with your approach. At this point, I’m not sure why I return to this page (and put money in your pocket) aside from the macabre interest in seeing what other ways you’ll try to justify questionable choices you make on this blog.

  14. ISIS was *the point* of that post — that the US government had much more important foreign policy fish to fry than Gulf airline subsidies, their focus with the governments of the UAE and Qatar would be ISIS and security issues and the concerns of the large US airlines wouldn’t get a significant hearing.

    British Airways ‘becoming Spirit’ was an obvious rhetorical device, although the point remains that cutting meals, selling hand baggage only fares, charging customers who don’t use self-service check-in, reduces the differentiation because the formerly full service carrier and the ultra low cost carriers and reduces their ability to drive a revenue premium. That could make sense if there’s no revenue premium left to earn given the LCC competition, Europe’s economic challenges, and looming Brexit, but then that just makes the point.

  15. Gary likes the gulf carriers so he can eat treif onboard, fly cushy A380 first suites to concrete jungles in the middle of nowhere, and stay at subsidized hotels that have to give away the rooms to have people show up. He doesn’t care that it’s against the interest of US Taxpayers, the US-Israel relationship, or hundreds of good American middle class jobs the US airline industry provides.

    I would never go to any of those places or fly those carriers if you paid me.

  16. @Josh G you clearly do not understand anything about my motivations, where I like to go best, or for that matter much about “the interest of US taxpayers” (their interest is the opposite of the protectionism United, Delta, and American are lobbying for — and yes this is what I have done professionally for 20 years).

    American pulled out of Tel Aviv, this had nothing to do with the Gulf carriers, how does protecting them serve the interests of the US-Israel relationship? Gaining the assistance of Qatar and the UAE in the fight against ISIS, especially in Syria which is a proxy war with Iran, would seem to be more in the interest of the US-Israel relationship than protecting US airlines from foreign competition, limiting consumer choice, and driving up airfares to India and the surrounding region.

    In any case, you’re making my point over and over — you simply change subject and insult. Oh, and you touted Cranky Flier did you see his post today titled, “British Airways Tests the Lower Bounds of a Full Service Carrier”…?

  17. Americans shouldn’t be flying and supporting these carriers and their economies when they are so hostile towards our interests and those of our closest ally. Qatar sponsors and funds terrorists, UAE doesn’t recognize Israel’s legitimacy and every time a gulf carrier expands into US carrier markets they dump capacity and compromise solid middle class American jobs. I could go on and on about the horrific human rights records these countries have and the way these carriers treat their own employees. You really need to open your eyes and go beyond the FC lounge sometime Gary.

  18. @Josh G – If you’re so concerned with Israel why don’t you focus on the US nuclear deal with Iran? With US permitting flights by Saudia which is bigger than Etihad? The Gulf carriers flying to the US are a non-issue vis-a-vis Israel, but what you’re a Mideast foreign policy expert now too? There are nations with human rights problems, many far worse that the UAE and Qatar (and Israel), and the US allows them to fly here. There’s at least disagreement in the literature as to whether travel and tourism supports change or benefits incumbent regimes but regardless your reductionist narrative is unlikely to be true.

    Regardless the US has a long-standing policy of Open Skies because it promotes US interests.

  19. Israel human rights problems? Enlighten me. Either you are just looking for controversy, worse yet it’s clear you are the self-hating type or both. Which is it? Most self-hating types proudly wave the flag.

    I never claimed to be a foreign policy expert now did I? Bottom line is you encourage people to fly on those carriers and visit the abundance of hotels in those regions.

  20. @Josh G – I’m Jewish and generally pro-Israel, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything done in the name of state security there. You don’t have to think every criticism from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch is fair to think that Israel – and the US – have human rights challenges. Or to think that Saudi Arabia is worse.

    I encourage people to book award travel on the Gulf carriers. So does American Airlines. Delta is in a revenue-sharing joint venture with Alitalia which is an equity partner of Etihad. Qatar is the largest shareholder in the parent of Iberia and British Airways which is in a revenue-sharing joint venture with American.

    I encourage people to visit those countries [I spent a couple of days in Doha to see the Museum of Islamic Art earlier this year]. And we can have a reasonable discussion or disagreement over whether tourism and cultural exchange is good for democracy and human rights over the long term or supportive of incumbent regimes.

    But I’m 100% comfortable with my moral position on this, and you should be ashamed if you’d advocate for protectionism in favor of the 3 largest US airlines [when US airlines account for nearly half the world’s airline profits] at the expense of US consumers and passengers.

  21. Hi Gary, I’m looking forward to the new BA seats and saying they are the same as current seats actually under-sells them quite a bit, aisle access, better ife etc. The issue for me is THESE SEATS WILL NOT BE RETROFITTED TO THE REST OF THE FLEET, so we will have these on a few new A350 aircraft (not until 2018) and the same crap on the rest of the fleet for the next 10 years! BA is a shadow of it’s former self, it’s AA of 10 years ago!

  22. To go where no man has gone in a long, long time, back to the topic — Gary, you’re wrong. BA couldn’t be Spirit if it wanted to. It’s a supply-demand thing. The kind of disagreeable sociopaths one often experiences as front-line staff for Spirit Airlines are in relatively short supply, at least when you don’t count the already-institutionalized. Much as videos of soccer riots may suggest these kinds of folks are plentiful in Great Britain, RyanAir seems to already employ the cream of the crop over there. BA will be SOL finding those with the right stuff, unless they decide to cast the net Dominion-wide. My shameful confession is that while knowing all this, I still fly Spirit when the price is right enough — got DTW-MGA next month at $83US with checked luggage. I have no one to blame but myself, really. I’m too cheap for my own good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *