Alex Cruz, the Chairman and CEO of British Airways, gave a speech at a UK Israel Business event yesterday morning. I went along and I know a few other readers were there too.
The main speech itself did not contain any surprises in terms of strategy announcements – not surprising, since UK Israel Business is not the platform you pick to announce big news.
During the questions – which were very polite and, coming mainly from UK Israel Business members and not members of the frequent flyer community, slightly bizarre in places – he did reveal some interesting information about the future of Club World and First Class.
The new British Airways Club World seat
It is well known that a new Club World seat will be introduced next year on the A350-1000 fleet as they come into service. We also know that this will have aisle access for every seat and, via a comment made at World Travel Market last year, will have a lower seat density than the current cabin (ie fewer seats).
Cruz joked that 23 years ago British Airways unveiled the world’s first flat-bed business class seat – “but the bad news is that we still have it”.
He said that ‘2-4-2’ is no longer competitive. This means, almost certainly, a move to some form of 1-2-1. Remember that even little Aer Lingus has a mix of 1-2-1 and 1-2-2.
There is a mock-up cabin now built, containing test seats. British Airways has drawn up 11 ‘red lines’ of features which it insists are included, down to proper storage for water bottles and spectacles. “More privacy” is also a key consideration.
“It really is something else” he said.
There is an implication here that this will not be a fully off-the-shelf product. This would also fit with a comment that (to paraphrase) “the delay in rolling out the new seat quickly will be entirely down to the inability to get them made fast enough”.
The new British Airways First Class seat
BA has stated numerous times that the current 14-seat First Class cabin on the 777 fleet is no longer relevant, but that there is definitely a long-term future for First Class.
Cruz said that (to paraphrase) “the new Club World seat will be so fantastic that we will have a serious problem with First Class”.
The answer is “to conceive the new First Class experience of the future”. As the seat itself will no longer be a key differentiator between the cabins – because the new Club World seat is so good – there will need to be a full revinvention of First Class. The implication is that this will only be partly about the seat and partly about everything else in the process such as food and service.
(It is fair to say that some of the most respected First Class offerings, such as Air France and Lufthansa, do not – by any standards – have the best seats in the air. They make up for it in other ways.)
This will be a slow process unfortunately. He talked about the long process of getting certification for a new product which implies that it will be something totally different and not a tweaked version of someone else’s seat.
As I have written before, Cruz – in person – comes across very well. He has no entourage, he is willing to stop and chat to everyone and he is open and convincing about what he wants to do. That doesn’t mean that he is always right, of course, but you can see where he is coming from.
Let’s dig this article out again in 12 months time, when we should be able to compare the reality of new Club World with the rhetoric.
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