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BA reported to be ending free food in Euro Traveller – good news or bad?

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There are, I suppose, some people out there who consider a mini bag of crisps (average content – 4ish) to fulfil the dictionary definition of a ‘snack’.

For the rest of us, the ‘free food and drink’ offered by British Airways in Euro Traveller has been an embarrassment for many years.  Many of us remember the happy days of the Gate Gourmet catering strike a few years ago, when a lack of food on board meant that status passengers could pick up a (pretty impressive) ‘tuck box’ in the lounge for free to take with them.

British Airways BA A320neo

A number of speculative articles in the press over the last couple of days suggest that BA has now decided to axe free food and drink in Euro Traveller.  I first heard about this from crew gossip a few weeks ago but there has been nothing in writing, and it still appears to be based on rumour – albeit that BA would presumably have jumped on the story when it first hit the press if it were untrue.

Even if it does happen, it will be at least 12 months away.  There is nothing happening at even the most high level cabin crew / management discussion groups.  More importantly, it would be difficult to implement with less than 12 months notice because passengers with tickets issued before any change would have a contractual right to free food and drink.

However …..

It may all be nonsense.

Not that I’m suggesting Simon Calder (who started the rumour) is getting his information from social networking sites but ….

easyJet make this model work successfully with, generally, four cabin crew.  Two prepare and deliver food orders whilst the other two sell drinks and ambient snacks from the trolley.  This works well.

British Airways often runs short haul flights with just three cabin crew members, of which one is focussed on Club Europe.  That leaves just two people to serve Euro Traveller.

It is not impossible that this would work, but it would require a bit of dexterity.  On a busy short flight like Amsterdam it would be virtually impossible to serve a full cabin.  You would probably need to make everything paid-for (ie no free drinks either) in order to reduce the number of orders to a manageable level.

BA catering

Is it a bad idea per se?

I had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich on my easyJet flight to Paris last month and it was perfectly fine.  I think I ended up paying £6.50 for a meal deal which included a coffee and, forced on me because it was effectively free, a jumbo Kit Kat.

I think the majority of hungry passengers would prefer a toasted sandwich to the free BA offering (example pictured above).  Drinks are different, of course.  All that happen here is that you would be going from free wine to paid wine – a clear drop in standards.

You are also left with the question of what will happen to Club Europe.  Will they simply be offered a free item from the paid menu, which at times would be an improvement and an other times a big cut, or would they get a ‘take it or leave it’ meal for free whilst Euro Traveller gets a totally different buy on board menu?

At the end of the day, BA’s obsession with competing with low cost carriers is pointless.  Most flights operate from Heathrow and Heathrow is not served by low cost carriers.  Airlines operating from other airports have a head start on costs due to airport fees (the Heathrow Passenger Service Charge is now £29.81) so fighting on price will never work.

The risk, as with the cut in Club Europe leg room last year, is that you start to lose high yield long haul business class passengers because they refuse to fly your short haul product for the final leg.

Finally, it is about time that BA stops the myth that short haul flying is unprofitable.  The new On Business programme is a revenue based, as we have discussed before.  

If you look at how long haul flights with a short haul connection are treated, the points awarded for the short haul are pitiful based on a couple of examples I’ve seen.  Logically, this must be the £ number that BA uses for its internal accounting – a number which bears no relation to the value of that short haul flight.

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Comments (110)

  • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    Seems crazy to me – BA would be running out of things that differentiates it as a brand from the rest of the IAG portfolio. It wasn’t so long ago that BA was pushing ‘happy lemons’ in a G&T as the centre of an ad campaign.

    IAG might as well just create a single new brand for short-haul and avoid diluting their long-haul brand.

    • John says:

      Maybe they could call it Go!

      • The_Real_A says:

        LOL incidentally Barbara Cassani autobiography is very good and covers the rise and fall of GO very nicely.

  • Metatone says:

    You have to think it’s going to happen eventually. You don’t promote the head of Vueling unless your strategy is to go that direction.

    I think it’s dangerous, because I don’t trust them to understand when it’s a good idea and when it is not – or when to stop as it goes beyond food and luggage to other aspects of the service.

    Unfortunately, it’s all part of a trend. Club Europe is (esp. if you’re not a big drinker) just not that special on the plane. (Fast track, lounges etc. are good benefits on the ground.) In order to make Club Europe look better in the air, you could improve it, but the bean counter’s way forward is to make Euro Traveller just worse. So expect both ET and WT to be further downgraded over time.

    It will only change if LHR gets another runway and most of the new slots are given to other airlines to stir up some competition.

  • Daftboy says:

    Both EasyJet and AerLingus quite successfully run BoB (as indeed do many other carriers) – not everyone purchases something (particularly on short hops), so the service can be quite swift – although at other times can be excruciatingly slow, such as Friday evenings when people are more likely to have a drink. Doesn’t diminish my travel experience and I can live without a lemon biscuit, nice as it is.

    If BA did paid food while retaining free drinks that would seem acceptable, but I would expect they would move to a completely paid offering to reduce complexity. No reason not to retain CE as is, and indeed it becomes a differentiator for that cabin.

  • Adrian says:

    I’m really quite surprised with the mentality of BA. They have a very profitable business but seem obsessed with cost cutting, rather than improving the not inconsiderable short falls in the quality of their product. I remember 20 years ago when BA was a trend setter, now it’s just a shadow of it’s former self and the oft talked about race to the bottom seems sadly to be their continued direction of travel.

  • James67 says:

    BA is arguably already, or very close to becoming, a budget airline. The only thing left to commend it IMO is their well above average cabin crew. WW should probably pray every night that LHR never gets a third runway. I’ve nothing against deconstructing fares to provide mix and match options like food, provided what is offered is good quality and good value. Air Asia is a good example to both LCC and ‘full service’ carriers on how it can and should be done but if BA current food standards and seat selection fees are anything to go by then I suspect they will fail miserably.

  • blackberryaddict says:

    “BA’s obsession with competing with low cost carriers is pointless”

    Sorry Rob, but don’t quite agree. OK, perhaps it shouldn’t be an obsession, but they are competing with LCCs. If I want to fly somewhere from London I have a choice of 5 airports. From some there are LCCS, from other there aren’t. But the fact there are no LCCs from Heathrow doesn’t mean BA doesn’t compete with them. Yes, of course the fare from LHR will not be as low as from the other airports – because indeed it is more expensive to operate from LHR. But if the price differential between Heathrow and say Gatwick gets too large, then passenger will choose to fly from Gatwick, even if it is slightly less convenient.

    On my usual AMS route, LHR is typically more expensive than Gatwick (although not always) . That makes sense. But at LGW BA competes with easyjet, and there the fares between BA and U2 are very similar most of the time, especially once you include all the ancillary charges.

    So I have a choice – and depending on how much it costs (time and money, parking) to get to the airport, and the fare, and the benefits (flight times, on board product, free food/drink or not, Avios/TPs, lounge etc) I make a choice.

    If the LHR fare is too high, BA will loose custom, so they need to control their costs. Not to the level of Ryanair at Stansted, but to a level where they can still compete and make a profit.

    • Aeronaut says:

      I agree with this, and I certainly think that Raffles has rather missed the mark when he says competing with LCCs is “pointless”. Look at what is happening across Europe – legacy carriers are adapting to compete with LCCs, and at the same LCCs are upping their game – the distinction between them is blurring.

      • Genghis says:

        Agreed. There’s been some serious conversion of legacy and LCC carriers. Even Ryanair have upped their game and have an ‘improved’ offering vs previous

      • Alex says:

        They are converging while ULCCs are emerging in Noirth America and elsewhere ready to spill over onto Europe as well

  • vindaloo says:

    It sounds ridiculous, but I really value the current offering. We swipe some crisps from the lounge (shame they stopped doing the sweet chilli flavour a while ago but we soldier on) and have them with a G&T on the plane followed by the lemony biscuits, while the kids like the free apple juice and biscuits too and it keeps them amused for 20 minutes. One time we flew Aer Lingus and had a mutiny on our hands when the kids heard there wouldn’t be any snacks.

    Of course if they stopped it I could just buy something, but in practice I wouldn’t as the lounge has free stuff and I’m too tight!

  • Andy says:

    There is an LCC operating out of LHR – Germanwings / Eurowings from T2

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