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British Airways “to cap Club Europe business class 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.

Club Europe British Airways

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?

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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Comments (86)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Bkev says:

    In other words

    “British Airways is introducing a more exclusive Club Europe cabin.
    Better seats*, and more dedicated service with delicious meals and drinks.
    You will get all the attention you deserve.”
    *Than in Traveller.

  • Alan says:

    Hmmm, not having enough room for duty free just as Brexit is on the horizon. I know nothing is yet decided about any exit “deal” but you’ve got to think that there is at least the possibility that duty free may be making a comeback when flying to and from the EU.

    So, potentially at least, you wedge a few more seats in – making the customer experience even poorer, but you lose out on a possible money-spinner.

    Would have thought they could have delayed the decision to see what falls out of the Brexit negotiations before committing to the change, but I guess that’s why I’m sitting at my desk and Alex Cruz is running an airline – I know nothing.

    • callum says:

      Doesn’t the extra fuel required to carry the duty free trolley cut into the profit margins pretty heavily? United saved over $2m a year in fuel costs when they scrapped their duty free sales.

      • Alan says:

        Fair enough, I hadn’t considered that.
        Maybe the future is in purchasing on board – electronically, and having the stuff waiting for you at the gate when you arrive?

  • Adam says:

    Is there anywhere I can use as a reference guide to lounge access using CE flights. I didn’t know about the Qantas lounge access at T3 LHR and good to read as have a flight booked.

  • shd says:

    Are we sure the 7 rows is *just* about galley space for the CE service, and not perhaps also about creating a layout with the first 7 rows having better seats and/or pitch, with ET sardines starting from row 8?

    • Rob says:

      Yes. The non-recline seats are from Row 12 I think.

      • Ben says:

        The tray size was already halved when the catering was updated last year and I’m not sure what they can do to reduce this further!

        As I understand it, the ‘half-size’ meal / trolley bars have 14 shelves and can hold 28 of the current half sized trays, which presumably sets the limitation discussed here.

        Are changes to be made to the front galleys then? Or perhaps the issue is in the new rear galleys where the return catering is stored.

  • Anna says:

    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?

    • shd says:

      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.

  • Nigel says:

    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.

  • Ben says:

    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.

    • Linda says:

      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.

  • Stephan says:

    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.

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