British Airways Will Staff Flights With More Flight Attendants To See If That Helps Poor Service

While many flight attendants announce that they are there “primarily for your safety” (don’t expect more than that!) they’re also the people in most direct contact with customers delivering an airline’s service.

So-called ‘full service’ airlines have historically staffed flights with more than the legal minimum. That started changing even before the pandemic, but accelerated when they weren’t providing much service at all.

Four years ago American Airlines reduced flight attendant staffing on many widebody aircraft. They treated premium economy as coach for calculating their staffing needs, which is one reason premium economy customers often report difficulty getting additional drink service.

Around the same time United Airlines reduced flight attendant staffing in business class as well.

Then during the pandemic American Airlines further reduced flight attendant staffing,

  • To one above FAA legal minimums on international widebody and transcon flights
  • To the legal minimum on Boeing 787-8 aircraft

That may have made sense during the stage of the pandemic when there were very few passengers and there was very little service to offer plus next to zero premium demand from business travel. However service is largely back, but staffing isn’t.

British Airways is seeing low customer satisfaction scores and testing increased flight attendant staffing on its worst-performing routes to see whether or not that moves the needle.

British Airways is to test the theory and find out whether improving the crew-to-passenger ratio on some of its worst-performing routes will improve customer satisfaction scores.

From next month, the Heathrow-based airline will add one extra crew member on seven long-haul routes that are considered some of its busiest but also worst-performing routes in an experiment to see whether the customer experience improves.

The routes that will take part in the trial are Dubai (DXB) and Islamabad (ISL), as well as all of BA’s Indian destinations, including Mumbai (BOM), Bangalore (BLR), Delhi (DEL), Hyderabad (HYD) and Chennai (MAA).

British Airways A350 Business Class Cabin

The quality of BA crew used to be easy to judge by route, since they had separate flight attendant groups – legacy flight attendants (Worldwide) with seniority who were more polished but tended to be indifferent, and newer crew (Mixed Fleet) who were junior with less training and no knowledge of a grander time for the airline’s service. Routes generally got one group or the other.

Now you don’t know ex ante what you’ll get, and on my last BA long haul crew closed off the forward lavatory in business class so they wouldn’t be disturbed during the flight. More of that isn’t going to help. Although it might mean getting meals out more quickly to that passengers can use the flight to rest.

British Airways Breakfast

American and United are in contract negotiations with their flight attendants union. Both unions want increased staffing (American’s union also wants to provide less service).

As American increases the number of premium seats on international planes, and plans an improved soft product to go along with their new business class suites, they’re looking to British Airways to learn how to provide service in dense premium cabins. BA sees the need for more cabin crew in order to do this.

Major unionized U.S. airlines should make a deal with their unions that involves more flight attendants in premium cabins, and actual accountability for cabin crew to provide the service levels required. The airlines will resist spending on more crew. The union will resist accountability. But that’s how you know it’s ultimately a good deal.

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. You’re talking about AA and UA, they could fill every FA jumpseat and the service would still suck. Most of their Flight Attendants are lazy and think passengers are just a distraction for them.

  2. All i care about is that they don’t try to wake me up for meals or drinks and that they tell passengers who are being loud or annoying to pipe down.

  3. EdE, shut up. We’re not your servants. Get over yourself.

    I love taking my time when you start going overboard with the requests.

    “I’ll get it in a moment.”

  4. Did the foremost expert not ask about why the forward washroom was closed for a certain time – it has a good reason.
    The foremost expert is also welcome to pay attention to on screen signage that would have helped him.

  5. The UK division of the Spanish registered multinational IAG have bigger issues than their generally excellent front of house staff. Cabin cleaning, cabin maintenance, actually loading the advertised catering, having some customer service staff on the ground, functional, reliable and secure IT systems would be top of my list….
    Until those are fixed and pricing is more competitive, they remain #BelowAverage and #BestAvoided
    I’m a Brit and actively avoid them wherever there’s an alternative!

  6. Maybe making all the long standing staff with a million years combine experience redundant and then trying to re employ them (making them do a 7 week new entrant course at £15 a day may have something to do with it. I begged and begged to take unpaid leave at the start of COVID as I am a nurse as well but they said no. Letting me and many other go with so much customer service experience. It’s coming to bite you BA. I am so very Sad.

  7. Unfortunately, BA’s food is usually awful in premium cabins, and it doesn’t have to be. They seem ok with spending lots of money with expensive alcohol but not some basic healthy and tasty food. And why not provide a decent amenity kit like Qatar or even Iberia?

  8. Your comment that crew closed off forward lavatory – this must have been A350. An aircraft which has been designed by accountants who have zero thought for crew having to work in these unworkable galley spaces. The closure of the forward toilet during the main meal service is ONLY because we cannot logistically deliver a full service to 56 customers from a galley which is not fit for purpose with the additional issue of a steady stream of people standing waiting to use a toilet inside a kitchen. It’s not an ideal scenario but there is no alternative.

  9. @Robbie – this was not just during the main meal service, this was during the majority of the flight, crew did not want to be disturbed while kibbitzing.

Leave a Reply

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