The Dumb, Stupid, Dull-Witted Way British Airways Has Moved to Buy on Board Food and Drink

British Airways now charges for food and drink on intra-Europe flights in economy. They go much father than US airlines, who are actually bringing amenities (like stroopwafels) back to coach.

With these changes across the Pond you can no longer get complimentary tea. On British Airways. Even if you bring your own tea bag, because BA will charge for hot water.

British Airways will serve tap water for free. Do you want to drink airline tank water? (British Airways, where “E. coli and the germ that causes Legionnaire’s disease” are included!)

We packed sample vials and took to the skies, hopping on 14 different flights everywhere from Atlanta to Sydney, Australia. On each, we collected water from the galley and lavatory taps, sealed them up and sent them to a lab for analysis. The results of our water-quality snapshot: a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs. Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits.

Queuing at Heathrow for Tap Water

In the U.S. Spirit Airlines charges for water while its legacy airline competitors do not (US Airways tried – briefly – but even the now American Airlines management backed off of that quickly suggesting Scott Kirby could see in his spreadsheets that customers were booking away from the airline).

Customers based near London with a strong preference for Heathrow may still book British Airways but there are fewer reasons to choose BA over low cost competitors now. It’s like the airline is giving permission for its customers to consider alternatives.

Will Charging for Tea Help British Airways Fill Planes?

British Airways domestic flights don’t have a premium cabin [they do sell premium fares, but those come with lounge access and not a separate onboard cabin]. Everyone pays for water on those flights — even customers connecting off of long haul first class. Pay $10,000 one-way for a ticket, pay for water on your connecting flight.

There’s really no domestic competition (no one else wants to fly within the UK really, Virgin tried and it didn’t work) so you’d think this would be the lowest risk part of the change. But the poor experience for a premium passenger is likely to cause them to connect through a city other than London, on an airline other than BA, when flying to other UK destinations.

Doug Gollan tweets me his piece for on British Airways buy on board, suggesting that the roll out hasn’t gone smoothly as a result of

not enough food loaded, some flights where no food at all was loaded, and cabin crew struggling to make the payment card system work. BA does not accept cash, although they allow frequent fliers to pay with miles. Several crew members claimed what little training they were given had taken place nearly four months ago.

The option to pay with miles means spending Avios at less than one cent per point. A 12 ounce cup of coffee is 300 Avios. A can of Coke is a relative value at 225 Avios.

Charging for water — and especially charging premium passengers connecting domestically for water — seems like a mistake. And reducing product differentiation between BA and its lower cost competitors seems like a mistake. Given their higher cost structure, they need to earn a revenue premium. Competing at the low cost game with airlines whose costs are lower seems like a game they’re destined to lose. And it means that they offer lower service levels than competing European legacy airlines on non-stop routes between London and the rest of Europe.

But if they’re going to do this, at least provision the aircraft and train flight attendants properly on how to take payment.

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. Reminds me of 2012-2015 United…cut your way to profitability

    But some might think this is a good thing – eliminate guaranteed hot water on board. Because guarantees just limit how much stuff you can get! With this new BA plan, there’s no cap on how much water you can beg (more likely berate) the FA for. Top tier BA travelers surely can get all the hot water they want. 100% success rate, T&Cs be damned.

  2. Unless their fares are lower than the competition, which they’re not, I can think of no reason to fly BA anytime the final destination is anywhere but LHR.

    And that family holiday I’ll be taking this summer, FI is looking better and better.

  3. I gave up on BA ( Bloody Awful ) forever after 3 long-hauls on their A380 in 2016 YVR-LHR x 2 and SFO-LHR. 7 across in what they call Business. ( QR you get 4 across ). And now to charge for water? Are they serious? Even for Premium passengers who pay a much higher fare? Geez, I hope no one dies from dehydration….Bloody Awful can kiss my ass…. Actually, look at who they have running it into the ground, that fool from another LCC. So many superior options now unless you’re a poor-old-Pommy and having to fly around the country.

  4. One turn further down the spiral of the toilet BA has decided to flush themselves down. I didn’t think it could get worse than US legacy carriers, but this proves me wrong.

  5. Flying First tomorrow and connecting to Club for connecting flight and BA charged for seat reservations from UK to Switzerland. Leaves a very bad taste in my opinion.

  6. It’s funny. The nice thing with the LCC’s in Europe (I’m thinking of EasyJet and RyanAir), they make it damn clear during booking what’s going to cost you and how much.

    When I fly the legacy network carriers, I pay more. But I do so with the expectation that I will not be nickeled and dimed for everything else. Also, the legacy carriers are less clear about what the extra fees are, so once I have to start digging, I may as well just stick with the LCC’s.

    I’m 6’1″, and pay for extra leg room seating. Last fall, I flew RyanAir from Berlin to Lisbon. They got smart, they offered a “package” for those who want to buy everything. I bought it, I like not having the stress of worrying about all of the extra fees.

  7. And yet the feedback from non self professed travel experts have been positive. The buy onboard food has been of higher quality than the complimentary crap they usually serve.

  8. The most amazing thing they did a while ago was reduce the legroom on intra European flight on business class, so I as a 6’5″ have to sit with my legs at an angle.

    And by gutting the FF program both in terms of mileage cost and surcharges, along with horrible availability, BA has gone from my preferred airline five years ago, to a non-attractive option.

    I have always liked their on-board service and dry British humor, and am actually sad to see it go downhill for BA.

  9. All the negative commemts.l will be looking at other Airlines to fly USA to UK in
    SEP 2017. MY Allegiance to BA has just gone down the
    Toilet. A sad Brit !!!!!!!!.

  10. Ah – re. your “Queueing for tap water” picture above. Pardon me for coming to British Airways’ defence, but that picture shows people waiting for the transit train to wings B and C at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5. If you are going to criticize, get your facts straight first!

  11. Dumb, Stupid, Dull-Witted, and and also Dim witted.
    Just terribly unfortunate when incompetent executives run a company into the ground instead of overcoming the challenges they face.

  12. don’t really understand why people feel the need to eat or drink on a short haul flight in Europe lasting less than two hours. I’m sure if you were sitting in your office you could go two hours without either!!
    To me eating or drinking seems to be a habit more than a necessity to flyers and if you really need to why not just buy at the airport and bring on board!!

  13. Right on Carsten! I’m 6’8″ and couldn’t believe their European club world seating. I have around 700,000 Avios points left and I am trying so hard to use them so I NEVER have to deal with BA again. Unfortunately, there are few alternatives to booking from Canada using avios on partners! Never any availability. Also, when you can use Avios you get the huge surcharges!

  14. If my Infant needs a hot Bootle on the way what are my choices… This is crazy and seems like will get more ridiculous.. so why not charging me for having using the loo etc.. are we getting atleast beeter ticket pricing..

  15. Alex Cruz is horrible. He and Etihad CEO James Hogan are the same – absolutely useless.

    BA has the Royal Seal….that should be removed. “To Fly To Serve” – how ridiculous.

    BA was never a low cost airline (the Go brand never materialised well). And now, this low-cost guy has come in and is making BA into a long-haul low cost carrier.

    Can’t wait until the recession – BA (and all airlines) will be groveling to attract customers. Hopefully they will come to their senses that the way airlines are screwing customers cannot go on.

  16. I’m BA Gold card holder … Until recently I regularly flew GLA to USA via LHR in Club or First … on my own buck … sadly they have a TOTAL MONOPOLY on the GLA to LHR route … this latest BA race to make it sh*t and charge for drinks and paltry snacks is the last straw … my next First flight (booked some time ago) will be my last. I’m done with BA’s crap and will be booking no more flights with them! I’m voting with my feet!

  17. I flew HAJ-LHR on 1/11 at 6:30 am and got a choice between a cheese or ham & cheese sandwich along with a coffee. Free service as usual.

    Is this not in effect yet?

  18. No reason to fly British Airline, i will be looking for discount airline or another alternate.

  19. Who really wants to pay for a cup of salmonella, listeria and the like? How many little 100ml. of your own sourced water can you take in your amenities pack without attracting the dumbos doing security?

  20. @simon, what royal seal? Thought it was just some made up crest they did for marketing.

  21. On BA flight this morning, very few people buy anything. So the service is quick. I guess FA like it as there service is done in less than 15 minutes.

  22. I work for them…. they do nothing but continue to go downhill and keep trying to get rid of all the long time serving staff… they think nothing of their employees…. they want to become Norwegian…. announcing they will now fly to OAK and FLL…. hmmm exactly where Norwegian flys… and MSY…. I bet that will be Norwegians next route announcement

  23. Very good article. I think CEO Alex Cruz is running BA like he did Vueling and I for one avoid BA now. I’d rather fly KLM, Monarch or Flybe. The horror stories I read about Vueling (BA code share partner, nice one Mr Cruz) means I will never book BA again, the days of it being a respected Airline are over.

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