British Airways is Unashamed, Wants You to Show Them the $%!@ Money

Earlier in the month I covered the significant cutbacks and customer-unfriendly changes that British Airways is planning.

For instance they’re planning 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.

They’re planning significant seat densification (more uncomfortable seats squeezed into planes). While they squeeze coach, already British Airways arguably has the worst lie flat business class seat in the industry at 8-abreast on their Boeing 777s.

And 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.

But I likely buried the lede. It was covered at Head for Points and at Traveling for Miles. But it took a piece in The Sun to notice a page from the investor deck outlining BA’s plans:

According to the head of IAG, parent of British Airways and Iberia, he stands by the slide:

“Willie Walsh has always been unapologetic about the airline industry’s inability to make proper returns and this time he wasn’t going to be outdone by the colourful language of one of his rival airline CEOs.”

Airlines are businesses. Some take a short-term view towards maximizing profits, before this IAG slide perhaps best summed up by NWA’s “Gangsta Gangsta” (and best explained by Jay in Chasing Amy).

Others take a longer view, looking to drive increasingly more comfort and value to their customers in order to create a brand affinity and derive a revenue premium. (United seems to suggest brand no longer matters and so was comfortable making itself in part more like Spirit Airlines with fares that do not permit carry-ons.)

British Airways seems to fall into the former camp — not because they put this slide in a presentation, but because they don’t regret it.

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. Avios programme mashing? Only the backend IT. Not the different flavours of Avios, just the platform the different programmes run on. Sorry.

  2. There is an air about British Airways that won’t go away for a long time, regardless of how they operate. Uninformed flyers in the USA assume British Airways is the most luxurious airline in the world because “European Airlines are better” and general anglophilia.

    If British Air’s Brexit fears actually come true, maybe it is a prudent strategy to monetize off their brand to get them over the hump; however, it is not a sustainable policy beyond that.

  3. We flew BA to Heathrow at the end of October, the 747 flight was decent for economy class (I actually liked the IFE system). But it’s sad to see the pending strike action by 2nd-tier BA flight attendants looming as well as these sardine-packing, “race to the bottom” moves by what was previously one of Europe’s high-end carriers and Britain’s flagship airline.

    I definitely noticed (as we boarded/deplaned) how cramped the Business class seats looked. It was shocking to see what a “premium” seat on BA looked like.

  4. They’ve lost every competitive battle except in the places where they have a near monopoly (UK-USA traffic). Since they’ve lost everything else they’ll need to continue putting the screws to passengers in traveling between those two markets. If you look at their financial reports it’s pretty obvious that the only things keeping them alive are UK-USA traffic and favorable fuel price changes that they have avoided passing on to customers. If Brexit and Trump reduce the UK-USA business traffic they’re only hope is going to be growth in UK-USA leisure traffic, hence the new initiate to emulate Norwegian.

  5. “Another Steve” wrote: “they’re only hope is going to be growth in UK-USA leisure traffic”.
    You hit the bulls eye. I totally agree with you. This explains why BA has been expanding the number of US airports they are flying out of. In the San Francisco Bay Area, first it was San Francisco, next it was San Jose, and in March they will start flying out of Oakland. 3 airports in just one metropolitan area!
    They already fly out of Vancouver, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and San Diego. The only major US city left on the Pacific Coastline is Portland Oregon. I was actually surprised that they chose Oakland instead of Portland first.
    They are clearly making a big push to capture market share in the US-UK market.

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