British Airways is, at last, gearing up for the launch of the new Club World cabin.
A member of cabin crew sent me a memo on training requirements for the new cabin. What is interesting about this is that it implies a more substantial change to the proposition than simply a tweaked seat – which we already know is coming.
All Club World cabin crew are being called in for a two day training session on new Club World. Interestingly, crew who have not taken part in this training will be blocked from working in the new cabin.
British Airways is taking this so seriously that they will be:
temporarily increasing the maximum number of ‘back to back’ trips crew may be asked to undertake from two to three in any 56 day period, in order to have enough qualified cabin crew in the air at all times
mixing Mixed Fleet and Worldwide crew on the same routes – but not on the same aircraft – to ensure that the new service can be rolled out to new routes as quickly as possible
A new role of ‘Club World galley lead’ is being created and is described as ‘pivotal’. I understand that the reason behind this is that Club World is moving to a ‘dine when you like’ offering which will be introduced alongside a higher quality food offering. ‘Dine when you like’ obviously has significant implications for cabin crew who are used to cooking up to 70 meals in one go.
And the new seat?
‘Evolution not revolution’ appears to be the name of the game with the new seat. Accidentally or not, a seating plan showing what appeared to the new seat appeared in the City investor presentation at the end of last year.
Qatar, Etihad and Emirates are not quaking in their boots (well, Qatar might be as they are a major shareholder in IAG!). The current yin-yang layout appears to be staying, with seats facing both forwards and backwards. The real change is that all seats will having direct aisle access.
What is not clear is how this will be achieved. The usual way is for aisle seats to be shorter than window or centre seats to create a six inch or so gap for the window or middle seat occupant to walk through.
The end result of this is that window seats and middle seats become more appealing (same size, gain aisle access) and aisle seats become less appealing (become shorter, already have aisle access). Emirates, to be fair, has done something similar on its A380 aircraft with surprisingly less pushback than I expected.
The problem I have with all this is that I would prefer to see the money poured into a market leading hard product. It is possible that BA is going to try something different – rubbish seat but with higher-than-average quality food and drink.
Economically, this makes perfect sense. Squeezing in more seats compared to the competition generates thousands. Doubling your food and drink spend costs hundreds. The airline is quids in.
The problem with BA is that a few months down the line, someone will decide that cutting back the food and drink spend is a great way to save some money. We saw it happen on the A380 aircraft, and if you’re as old as me you will have seen it happen company-wide two or three times over the last 25 years. From the point of view of the passenger, putting in a great seat gives you some degree of confidence in the future because those seats are too expensive to rip out ….
PS. Qatar Airways is launching its new business class seat at ITB Berlin in seven weeks and the German-speaking half of the HFP team will be there to take a look. Qatar is ditching a seat which is already substantially better than the BA seat in order to launch something better …..
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