British Airways “to cap Club Europe at seven rows”

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When I wrote about the new Club World catering last week, I mentioned that I had also heard some interesting news about Club Europe changes.  I wanted to get some additional confirmation before I wrote about it, and luckily the Club Europe crew we had on Sunday were happy to oblige.

I should point out that whilst the gist of this article appears to be correct, the reasoning for why British Airways is doing it is more speculative.

Why is British Airways apparently about to cap Club Europe at seven rows?

I have written a couple of articles recently about changes to short haul service being driven by the ‘densification’ of the short haul fleet.

What is happening is that the rear toilets are being removed and moved into the back wall of the aircraft.  Additional rows of seats can then be installed in their place.  BA is also taking the opportunity to introduce a super-slim no-recline seat with a 29 inch pitch which allows even more seats to go in.

At the same, the first deliveries of brand new ‘standardised’ short haul aircraft are about to be made which will have a similar layout.  Identical planes are being delivered to Aer Lingus, Vueling, Iberia and British Airways, even though two of the airlines operate two-class services with full catering in Business Class whilst the other two airlines just sell the odd tube of Pringles to a one-class cabin.

What could possibly go wrong?

New BA short haul seat 1

Unfortunately the story is that the new aircraft about to be delivered, and the refurbished ones coming through, do not have enough galley space.  British Airways has already had to scrap short haul duty free due to the lack of space on these new aircraft and Club Europe catering is the next casualty.

We already knew that BA was planning to cap Club Europe numbers – I originally mentioned it back in my January article It seems that the limit has now been set at 28 passengers, ie seven rows. 

The recent stories we have heard about a further ‘refresh’ of Club Europe catering do not appear to be caused by poor reaction to the last set of changes.   It is being driven by a more fundamental problem – British Airways cannot operate the current tray-based Club Europe food service if it is to sell more than 28 seats.

This is a tricky problem which is going to take time to resolve.  In the short term, my understanding is that British Airways will cap Club Europe at seven rows on flights where a new or refurbished aircraft will, or could, operate it.  This will allow the food service to continue to be tray based with the existing crockery.

The way forward is more complex.  The trays could be removed completely, with crew putting a table cloth on your drop-down table and manually laying out the settings.   Alternatively, smaller items of crockery could be introduced to reduce storage space – the new mugs are particularly large as you will have seen.  We will have to see what BA’s creative teams can come up with.

This experiment will also inadvertently give British Airways some interesting insights into CE demand.  Can it sharply increase Club Europe pricing now that seats are rationed?  Will it hold back seats to sell to last-minute buyers of long-haul tickets looking for a CE connection?  How many people will choose to trade down to Euro Traveller and how much will they pay?  There is lots of learn – and perhaps BA will even decide that capping Club Europe makes sense long term.

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  1. I thought one of the reasons for introducing CE on domestic flights was to keep premium passengers happy – e.g. someone who has paid a lot to fly in F from the US to London but might then be unhappy about a ET connection to Edinburgh. If they reduce the number of CE seats, then presumably some of those passengers are going to have to start taking their connecting flights in economy again?

    • They could hold back domestic CE inventory for l/h connecting pax….

      • Lady London says:

        Which based on my own searches for British Airways domestic seats, they already do hold connecting seats back for international passengers…unless the searcher is at least Gold so far as I can tell.

  2. It all sounds very badly thought out via a series of rushed knee jerk reflexes based around the primary desire to cram more steerage passengers in.
    Had the whole model have been thought out properly with the model being mocked up on paper at each stage and the implications studied, then the refashioning could have been done in a logical manner.
    I have little doubt that there will be yet another fare increase in CE and that there will also be disgruntled long haul passengers having to fly steerage to connect at LHR.
    Is BA serious about remaining a full service carrier? This race to reduce service and space, increase queues for washrooms and increase premium fares…….on European sectors (!)……may well backfire on them. Meanwhile our modestly overweight population will struggle in the smaller back end rooms and the somewhat further overweight are expected to put up with a world class dated business class product for the forseeable future.
    Why do I continue to give my substantial self funded business to BA??

    • Thomas Howard says:

      BA (and possibly IAG) don’t seem to have a strategy any more which is why I opted to collect tier points with Qantas rather than BAEC – the consensus seems to be this is a poor idea, however, over the long term I don’t think BA has a future. It seems to be working on the basis that it can provide a Ryanair service for full service prices, while outsourcing everything it can with some high profile and notable failure in IT.

      It seems to survive on little more than a dated reputation and a lions share of landing slots at Heathrow.

  3. I’ve always found the CE meal service to be incredibly slow, clunky and unsophisticated and thought there was plenty of room for improvement. Even with only 7 rows it always seems to take forever and watching the crew peel the foil off the main course, peek inside, attempt to scrunch it up and add it to the tower of scrunched plastic on top of the cart makes me cringe. I guess its not practical with such a large CE cabin but I would much rather than crew prepare and check the tray in the galley and then bring it completed to me.
    There’s plenty of options to use less space and still maintain (or improve) the food quality but yes the presentation is likely to suffer. I could see them moving to some sort of gourmet box/hamper arrangement, containing (very) good quality, well presented food inside. SAS do this already. It would be very quick to serve without trays and would not require as much galley space. Of course the old fashioned pax would bemoan not being served an oversized tray with loads of cutlery they don’t even need and nowhere to put it but don’t right, this could be a sensible solution.

    • I absolutely agree with you Ben. We’ve had food served both ways direct from a trolley and also on completed trays prepared in the galley it obviously depends on the crew. I like the idea of a box/hamper too. It’s not rocket science to get this right but there doesn’t seem to be anyone in BA who has the common sense to achieve this.

  4. OT Can you use a recently cancelled platinum amex (not expired) to get into the eurostar lounge in London and Paris? I remember last time I used it they didn’t check if the card worked.

  5. Colin from Sussex says:

    Maybe this could be an opportunity to introduce proper 2-2 seating with a circa 40″ seat pitch.

    3 rows on a 319
    5 rows on a 320
    7 rows on a 321

    Only then could any increase in price to fly CE be justified. Until that happens I will choose extra leg room in a Y exit row and enjoy the food in the lounge, extra bags and first check in that my status already gives me

    At is stands I value the middle seat and the food in CE at no more than £10 and zero if I had to move from an exit row to anything other than the front row.

    The only time I would consider flying it would be for the TP

    • Anthony Dunn says:

      If you read the sundry Capital Markets day presentations to the City of London etc fund managers, you will see that IAG clearly wishes to be able to switch aircraft between IAG operating airlines IAW with demand factors. Having an entirely standard interior fit both saves on initial costs and obviates the need for expensive internal modifications if an IB airframe is moved over to EI or BA. This is part of IAG’s drive to achieve “synergy” gains….

      We’ll all see how this works out in practice.

      Beyond that, I have quite enjoyed my recent CE experiences on BA with decent Club tray service and food quality. I’ve even found the seat, tray table, armrests and forward bulk heads to be clean of late – this after my rather deliberately and publicly taking to use the hand wipe on all of those surfaces. This has drawn some rather astonished looks from cabin crew and fellow passengers alike – particularly when i have commented that” I don’t do grime…!”

  6. After reading this article I checked the CE seat plans for our flights from Heathrow to Malaga in March and May. Interestingly the March flights are showing only 7 rows on an A320 but the May flights on an A321 show 10 rows. Wondering if the seat maps are accurate or will passengers in rows 8 to 10 on the A321 find that they are no longer in CE.

  7. CE is never full .. and often they move the barrier to reduce down. Sometimes three rows. Am I missing something on typical CE yields?

    • How many 7am flights to key business cities do you do?

      • Depends if Oslo is a ‘key business city’ 😉 but not often the earlies to be fair.

      • Or some leisure routes. I was recently on an 0650 departure from LGW-MLA on a Sunday and that had 8, maybe 9 rows of CE on an A319. At least being a “very long” flight (as in menu range) they managed the service with plenty of time to spare!

        I’m presuming the blankets and pillows that used to be on the Band 4 flights have been enhanced away though.

      • I’ve been flying FRA-LHR pretty much every week since July last year. All flights on ‘peak’ times and the FRA route is probably the most business-orinted route in the European network. CE has been rammed almost every time with at least 7-10 rows of CE

    • They usually are on LGW-TFS – 8 rows full im my recent experiences

    • I fly LON-PRG-LON every month and CE is always full regardless the time or day…obviously leisure connection route (mostly US flights feed) rather than business. On many occasions, business class pax were seated in emergency row in addition to 11 CE rows…cutting to 7 CE rows will be tough challenge.

  8. This is ONLY on the longer flights (with full meal service). Short ones will have NO cap on CE loads.
    Most of the T3 flights (where the neos are going first and thus where this is being trialled) operate with fewer than 7 CE rows anyway.
    GIB is the only real one to watch here.

    • They provided a full three course meal service in CE when I travelled from ORY (Paris Orly) to LHR last June, despite this only being a 45 minute flight plus any unpredictable time in the stack waiting to land at LHR (but by which time all meal service must normally be ended). So what exactly are the short flights with no cap on numbers that you refer to? Is this only LHR to MAN? Yet from Prague to LHR on the evening of New Year’s Day this year (2018) they only operated a two course service on a 90 minute long flight.

      The main point surely is that CE now has no more leg room than ET so I can’t actually see the point of paying up to several hundreds more in cash for the product, especially if you are a taller or larger passenger as I am. I am only bothering with this product at all because I have Avios points to use up but the product has no future unless at least half the people (and probably a great many more than that) travelling in Club are prepared to pay the full cash price for the service.

      But given the seat pitch and reduced meal service they plan to offer going forward I can’t see how they can possibly get away with the old level of cash premium for Club Class fares.

  9. OT
    Yesterday I added my nephew and OH to our ‘Family and Friends’ list at BAEC. It was surprisingly simple and allowed me to book for them immediately (I had assumed that they would have to reply to the email first).
    Am I right in thinking that I cannot add anyone else to the list for six months?

  10. Stuart graham says:

    Ot – I have a cw 241 booking departing Friday – all seats in manage my booking are shown as taken but one – is this an indication I might have trouble?

    • I wouldn’t worry about it. You probably have pre allocated seats, even though you don’t know what they are and can’t see them yet (assuming you are Blue).

      When we flew to LA last year, a lot of seats opened up at T-24.

  11. Is there a new BA CW seat on the way or am I mis-remembering? Any news on this?

  12. I used to commute back and forth from Basel quite often and remember seeing 18 row’s of CE rather frequently. That loss in review by cutting capacity by 2/3rd will hit their top-line no?

    • Although for every two business they would sell 3 ecomomy of course. Plus some bags..

      The maths is quite fluid especially with expensive peak school holidays, weekend flights and low cost business fares..

  13. OT but seat related. Flying to BKK next month in WT and there’s a lack of pairs of seats. Have paid for two seats in a row of three at 20 A&B. There are 2 pairs – 16 A, B, J & K by the bassinets which are greyed-out. Just wondered if they ever become available to purchase if they’re not used by people with babies, anyone know pls?

    • I think they are released at T-24 on BA if no-one else has booked them. If you check them on it might tell you when those exact seats become available.

  14. Dartmouth says:

    OT – would anyone have the link to apply for the Gold Credit card?

  15. Travel Strong says:

    O/T but ABBA related:

    It seems headforpoints community know more than 3 different BA ‘customer service’ agents.
    I contacted BA and was fed wildly incorrect info by an Indian call centre. I complained, but found the correct info on this site. 3 weeks later I received complaint response from Indian customer service office, giving MORE wrong information. So complained again. Now I have received admission from another agent admitting they do not know how to get the correct info, and that appears to be case closed in their eyes.

    I’ve also spoke to Virgin Atlantic customer service agents a few times this year and they have been great, resolving queries immediately!

  16. Our CE flights to Valencia have only 5 rows in CE when I look at both the outbound and return. Leisure route?

    • All the LGW flights to the south of Spain that we have taken have been absolutely packed in CE with about 10 rows.

  17. Simply put, no they aren’t.
    Some old aircraft have different layouts and cant fit large CE cabin catering. No flights will be capped, these aircraft will be placed on routes where less than 7 rows have been sold…

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